The Last Train from Hiroshima

Preface to the Second Edition



Tsutomu Yamaguchi was a man who saw anger and hatred in others and tried to heal it, saw ignorance and tried to replace it with wisdom, saw the approach of despair and tried to steady those in its path with hope.

I knew Mr. Yamaguchi only briefly; but he proved that the quantum of an association is no measure of its ability to teach. If a man who survived the atomic bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki could come away from that magnitude of horror believing in the basic nobility of life, then any of us can. Leading by example, he believed that if even a fraction of humanity could go forth with but one simple commandment - be kind - such behavior might be spread like a virus from person-to-person, perhaps even to eventually change the life of someone who might otherwise do something horrible in the future.

He also believed that people, more and more of them, had become complacent during the nearly two decades since the once constant and increasingly terrifying nuclear brinksmanship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had ended. A form of amnesia had begun to afflict civilization - a particularly dangerous amnesia in which people began to forget what atomic bombs really do and, around the world and in many tongues, the words "nuke them" were being uttered with increasing frequency. Yamaguchi realized that if humanity did not soon remember, did not soon learn that "nuke them" was the worst curse one human being could utter against another group of human beings, then all of civilization might now be aboard that same train he had ridden - from Hiroshima toward something even worse.

During the last weeks of his life, Tsutomu Yamaguchi passed the torch to a small but committed group of film-makers and writers, receiving a pledge that they would live by his example, and teach.

To four, he gave, in his own calligraphy, Tanka poems memorializing his experience under the bombs. To one, he gave his painting of the half-melted and seemingly weeping face of Urakami Cathedral's Maria statue, and said, "There is still time to prevent this from ever happening again." To film-maker James Cameron, expressing a belief that there appeared to be a pre-existing spiritual bond between them and that he was convinced he could see into the film-maker's heart, Mr. Yamaguchi passed along a painting of the dragon that he said would need to be grabbed by the horns. It represented Yamaguchi's own inner dragon: The one he had wrestled with and painted in a single day, conveying the despair he had felt when his son, like all so clearly too many children of the bombs (most, in fact), developed cancer and died before reaching the age of sixty.

For me, he had selected his recent painting of a waterfall, with a letter attached, indicating rather enigmatically that I would need to seek the serenity of the waters - and soon.

A storm was coming.


Only a few weeks later, on January 4, 2010, I received word from my friend Hideo Nakamura that Mr. Yamaguchi had passed away. Then, in February, came the storm. A New York Times reporter presented me with evidence that one of the aviators I had interviewed for the first edition of this book was not who he appeared to be. Evidently, the impostor had taken advantage of the many defects in 1945 record-keeping - including errors that had shifted people from one plane to another and in which even the Nagasaki bomb was recorded as having been dropped from the wrong plane. Against this background, an aviator had inflated his resume` by placing himself falsely in the seat of another man, aboard the Hiroshima mission's photographic escort plane, Necessary Evil.

This was clearly a mistake that I should have caught much earlier. It did not matter that the person in question possessed hundreds of photographs, along with the "right" documents and artifacts (among them actual period photos of the marker at the end of the Tinian runway memorializing the final fire-bombings of August 14, 1945; aerial photos of Hiroshima before, during, and after August 6; a photo showing one of the disputed planes, with him and several other men standing in uniform beneath its nose art [and clearly this was the same man seen in his wedding photo a year later], and finally a letter from President Truman). It should not have mattered that Joseph Fuoco was a veteran and a fire-fighter; this did not make it right for me to let my guard down. I ended up trusting him 100%. Given my obligation to get the history as right as humanly possible, I should never have trusted any interviewee 100%. A result of this is that some of the history from the American aviators' point of view in the first edition of this book is an illusion. I hold myself more at fault for this than the veteran who told the story.

Naturally, everything either said or implied by this "witness," no matter how consistent it might have been with parts of the story already verified by others, has been completely eliminated from this edition and replaced with material that, first and foremost, restores the man who actually did sit in the flight engineer's seat aboard Necessary Evil to his rightful place in history.

As for the man who inflated his war record, the 509th Composite Group has understandably expressed extreme anger and hatred. Had I never met Tsutomu Yamaguchi (or Masahiro Sasaki, or some of the other sages who rose from the ashes), I might have been inclined, too, toward hatred.

Here is what I believe Mr. Yamaguchi would want us to think about Joseph Fuoco: I have learned from Mr. Fuoco's son, a police officer with experience in dealing with deliberate deceivers (who tend to quickly develop inconsistencies in their stories), that there was never, as far back as he could recall, an inconsistency in his father's story. Joseph Fuoco's wife "knew" from at least the beginning (1945 - 1946), that her husband had flown aboard one of the Hiroshima mission's escort planes.

The day after my third interview with Joseph Fuoco in 2008, he suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack. The fire department, the police department, the military - and many hundreds of people attended one of the largest funerals I have ever seen, pouring out their love for this man. There were once-troubled teens whose futures had seemed prison-bound, and whose lives Joseph Fuoco had helped to turn around. None of us will ever know if he was intentionally lying to me in 2008. I find it difficult to believe that he was. The man I met at that time was living by a code of service to others. Having placed himself aboard a mission he never flew (and having consciously assembled convincing documentation, all those years ago), and notwithstanding the fact that this would have begun as a mean-spirited act, I want to believe - and almost have to believe - that by about 1955, perhaps through the mutation of memory, what began as a lie had become Mr. Fuoco's reality.

Asking myself what Mr. Yamaguchi would have done, I prefer to think of Joseph Fuoco as a man who served his country in a time of need, and who continued to serve his country after the war, as a firefighter. Would only that others could have adopted the Yamaguchi view.

As each passing day revealed the Fuoco incident to be only the beginning of the storm, I moved Mr. Yamaguchi's painting to my desk, keeping it close. By power of suggestion or not, it seemed to bring calm, as my publisher began receiving rafts of angry letters, from the 509th Composite Group and almost every other point of the compass. The legal department seemed confused about numerous claims that I had made up stories about radiation sickness and excess cancer mortality in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At least one seemingly authoritative scientific letter insisted that the atomic bombs were designed to dissipate all their radiation high above the ground and that my descriptions of radiation's effects on the civilian populations were a hoax.

I had not been aware, previously, that radiation deniers existed, or that lawyer-types would give them even a nanosecond's worth of credibility. While I was providing documentation answering to this issue, letters came in pointing to what was essentially a clerical error (an overlooked parenthetical statement that needed to be inserted in my Acknowledgements section). The oversight was being misused as a basis for claiming that two priests mentioned in the first edition were fictitious. No one in this book is fictitious - which is why the two priests remain intact in this edition. The priest referred to as Fr. MacQuitty can be cross-referenced in the Acknowledgements sections of other works, including Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, as one of two Jesuits whose names had been changed. A reader of Ghosts of Vesuvius can see easily why Fr. MacQuitty had requested that his name be changed. After Fr. Mervyn Fernando appeared under his own name in Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, he was temporarily defrocked until he recanted his statements (despite the fact that what he had said about God and quantum mechanics seemed perfectly innocuous). In the first edition of this book, I neglected to repeat, in my Acknowledgements section, that Fr. MacQuitty's name had been changed. My publisher's legal interpretation of this oversight meant that I had to reveal the priest's real name - which I was told needed to be given over "at once" to the Associated Press.

I had a promise going back at least to 1989 that I would quote Fr. MacQuitty accurately but never reveal his real name. Anyone reading about the unusual compassion "Fr. MacQuitty" showed for the friends and family of people who under church rules were not to be buried on consecrated ground will understand how the priest could have gotten into even worse trouble than Fr. Fernando if I violated my promise. I make very few promises; but those I make, I keep, no matter what the consequences.

Readers should take note that Fr. MacQuitty appeared in only one sentence in the entire book. Surely, no reasonable thinker could believe that I would invent a fictional priest for one sentence, and risk inflicting such extreme injustice as casting into doubt the lives and the lessons of all the survivors, including Mr. Yamaguchi, the Sasakis, the Itos, and the Nagai family.

As for the second priest, I met Fr. Mattias in 1974 and the story he told about the day he became one of Hiroshima's aimless "ant-walkers" - and of the three children he believed he had abandoned atop a brick tower - was burned indelibly into my memory and guaranteed that one day I would write this book. (He can be cross-referenced in the Afterward of my 1998 book Dust, pages 370-371; in which I refer to reconstruction of a low-yield nuclear weapon's aftermath "through numerous conversations with Hiroshima survivors. Among these� a priest who spent the rest of his life wondering what became of the children he had seen standing atop a demolished building in Hiroshima.) Again, his name was changed because of the direction his life took after Hiroshima, and the way it ended for him.

By the time the controversy over the two priests erupted, my publisher was already nearing exhaustion. Just ahead of the Academy Awards, in late February 2010, James Cameron made a public statement in defense of the book, and lamented the next day that his attempt to help a friend appeared only to have intensified the media feeding frenzy.

As the frenzy continued, someone latched onto a story about New Zealand ad hoc tribunals of the 1980s and, though the tribunals themselves were ruled unjust and unlawful years ago, put a new spin on old events, to claim that I had fabricated a "phony Ph.D." for myself at Victoria University.

The facts, in their simplest form, are as follows: In late August 1981, I successfully defended and passed my Ph.D. Dissertation. Six months later, mine and Dr. Jesse A. Stoff's book, Darwin's Universe: Origins and Crises in the History of Life, was about to be published by Van Nostrand Reinhold. Additionally, my recent fossil excavations were yielding evidence that supported Eldredge and Gould's so-called "American theory," about rates and modes of evolutionary change (called the punctuated equilibrium theory). My timing could not possibly have been worse. Disputes had arisen within the university between classical Darwinists (who hated the "American theory") and at least one "scientific creationist" (who hated anything connected to Darwin). Disputes were also arising between New Zealand and the United States, centered primarily on New Zealand's decision to block the entry into its waters of nuclear powered and/or nuclear missile-bearing vessels. This was the atmosphere in which my credentials were suddenly taken hostage, and in which I was ordered to withdraw Darwin's Universe from publication. I refused.

What most of us who were brought before these self-named "ad hoc" committees of the 1980s had in common was publication in the field of evolution. Just as notably, in the British system, the term "ad hoc" is defined as operating outside the normal rules of law. Those of us who were subjected to the "ad hoc" system decried the tribunal's efforts to restrict research and publication in the field of evolutionary biology as "censorship, plain and simple."

The "ad hoc" tribunals assumed the power to downgrade or revoke credentials in closed sessions, without any response or defense being permitted. "Ad hoc" justice became a Star Chamber system in which the protagonist was denied even the illusion of due process, and (fortunately), tribunal members were quite willing to memorialize their actions in writing.

All of these activities were eventually ruled unlawful in New Zealand, and post-graduate degrees were restored to their former status. Unfortunately, the 1980s were not the right time to be an American in New Zealand, and I was originally from America. In late 1982, New Zealand had declared itself a Nuclear Free Zone and was in the process of pulling out of the ANZAC Treaty (essentially, NATO down under). In addition to the already harrowing evolutionary conflict, a U.S.-N.Z. conflict relevant to the very core of this book was also rising around me. With three new hydrogen bombs then being built in America each week and with the saber-rattling between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. looking grimmer each passing month, the New Zealand government decided that it did not want its people to become a nuclear target if the northern hemisphere "went crazy." The Truxton and other nuclear weapons-bearing ships were refused permission to make port. The Reagan Administration announced that New Zealand was no longer to be considered an ally of the United States, and retaliated economically (including withdrawing from its partnership in New Zealand's giant and potentially economy-hobbling aluminum smelter project). Soon afterward, approximately twenty New Zealanders were expelled from their partnership programs in American naval academies. Naturally, this was not the best background against which the only American who had recently completed a Ph.D. program at a New Zealand University should have been rocking the boat by publishing a book supporting what had already been derided as "the American theory of evolution."

Subsequently, after the "ad hoc" tribunals were judged unjust (to a point that actually involved significant monetary reparations), and once New Zealanders who had been "ad-hocked" had their credentials restored, a question remained as to whether the protections of New Zealand law necessarily applied to an American (namely, me). In April 2010, the question was finally answered: The protections for post graduate students contained in the University Regulations applied to all enrolled students, including Americans.

As if to drive home the lesson that our universe is not without a certain sense of irony, I was actually in support of New Zealand as a Nuclear Free Zone (and I still am). It did not matter. The initial attacks against my evolutionary studies included a distinctly anti-American flavor, ranging from, "American spelling should be discouraged" to ad hoc committee member Garrick's remark, "We don't need Americans coming here and pretending to tell us how our animals evolved." Even a prominent "ad hoc" tribunal supporter (in SFWA Forum, March 13, 1995), admitted that he could not deny that I "may have, for some reason, experienced anti-American sentiment while in N. Z."

Amid such sentiment, my case became one of the more extreme examples of "ad hoc" abuse. In November 1984, "ad hoc" head Christopher Dearden admitted in writing that I had completed all the requirements for awarding of the Ph.D. The publication of my entire Dissertation in the field's leading peer-reviewed scientific journal (CRUSTACEANA, Vol 47, Part 3, 1984) made the merits of the Dissertation difficult for Dearden to deny, especially as the study's new application of atomic absorption spectrometry had become required reading in the chemistry department of the very same university in which Dearden's ad hoc committee was being convened.

Once the Dearden letter was extracted, with the help of colleagues at Brookhaven National Laboratory (where, as another irony, our primary project at that time involved brainstorming sessions for Senator Spark Matsunaga's U.S.-Soviet Space Cooperation Initiative, as a hoped-for means of reducing the probability of war between the two nuclear-armed superpowers), it was easy to re-verify my Dissertation as having indeed met the university's requirement of making "a significant contribution to the knowledge or understanding of a field of study."

In his November 6, 1984 letter, Dearden attempted to get around the proven merits of the Dissertation by (A) implying that a leading journal had published it by mistake and (B) stating that the merits of my work even if proved should henceforth be declared "irrelevant," with only the new rules for retroactive revocation of credentials being allowed to be considered relevant.

Having helped me to document "ad hoc" absurdity beyond all serious dispute, my colleagues at BNL (including Head of Reactor Systems James Powell, who summed up Dearden's tribunal as "a grievous wrong") agreed that I had all the proof I would ever need, demonstrating that the "ad hoc" committee was operating illegally by both New Zealand and international standards, at which point the Matsunaga symposium proceedings and other papers published out of the National Laboratory had my title - "Dr." - restored.

So, any suggestion in the world press that I had simply created a "phony" Ph.D. for myself in New Zealand - or that I had somehow sat and failed a Ph.D. examination - was grossly mistaken, at least insofar as the truth is concerned.

Bearing in mind that attacks with regard to what I got wrong about the aviators were justified, as the feeding frenzy intensified, another series of developments began to suggest - as one Japanese journalist observed - that "sometimes even the worst things turn out to be positive in the journey we call life." Even the most torturous road, she advised, can take one to growth, and even amazement.

In February 2010, after more than three years of searching, documentary film-makers Hideo Nakamura and Hidetaka Inazuka had finally found the daughter of a double atomic bomb survivor named Kenshi Hirata (a key figure in the chapters ahead). The last event anyone knew about in Mr. Hirata's life, when the first edition of this book went to press, was that he had disappeared with his family long ago, vowing to stay out of history's way. To our amazement, Kenshi himself turned out to still be alive, at age ninety-one. (What happened after the disappearance has been added to this edition.)

Shortly after Kenshi Hirata's family was discovered, beginning with the March 2010 Peace Film Festival in New York, other survivors began to come forth. With the stories of the aviators corrected, a road that did indeed begin with torturous strides led toward an opportunity to begin updating chapters of this history, while survivors are still alive, and are able to contribute new details.

Charles Pellegrino,
Long Beach,
Long Island,
April 14, 2010