Setsuko Thurlow’s experience on August 6, 1945 remains vivid. The bombing of Hiroshima happened when Thurlow, then 13, was at an army base decoding secret messages. Her family was scattered across the city. Her mother was at home. Her father was out of the town fishing. Her sister and her 4-year-old nephew were near the center of the blast. Thurlow’s sister didn’t live past a week.
Some memories fade with time. But for Thurlow, now 79, the harrowing images of death and destruction have marked her permanently. Now she shares her painful memories with high school students, government officials and activists as a part of Hibakusha Stories.
Hibakusha translates to survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Hibakusha Stories gathers the Hibakusha to press for nuclear disarmament.
About 350 students from Thurlow’s school in Hiroshima died in the 1945 bombing. About 30 students who were with her at the army training camp died. Only Thurlow and two others survived. The devastation continued even after the bomb exploded. Thurlow recounted scores of injured people walking in a daze. She was reunited with her family the following day. She found her sister and her nephew, both of whom she said were unrecognizable from their injuries.
Thurlow also lost her uncle and aunt. Though sustaining no serious injuries at the time, they shortly succumbed to radiation poisoning. Purple spots appeared on their skin and they seemed to be rotting from the inside, said Thurlow.
Since the bombing, Thurlow has gone on to practice social work in Canada and the U.S. As an activist for nuclear disarmament, she urges everyone to be active about ridding the world of the weapon that killed so many of her family and friends.