During the World War II, on August 6, 1945, B-29 plane piloted by Paul W. Tibbets released a uranium atomic bomb dubbed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. In minutes, half of the city disappeared along with more than 60,000 people killed, 140,000 injured and more became homeless.
Three days after, another B-29 plane piloted by Major Charles Sweeney dropped another atomic bomb “Fat Man” in the city of Nagasaki. The bomb swept the city killing an estimated 40,000 people. On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s surrender in a radio broadcast.
The horrors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings continued even after the surrender. Images were captured and photographs were released for the world to see. Such fears were imprinted to the mind of Marine photographer Joe O’Donnell. One particular moment was when he saw a boy standing by the crematory.
He narrated that he went to Nagasaki and saw men in white masks. The men were piling corpses into a hole of about 60cm deep.
O’Donnell noticed a boy of around ten years old, bare feet approaching the working men. Strapped to his back was his baby brother appearing to be in deep sleep. It was regular site in Japan to see young boys carrying their little brother or sister on their back. But the photographer knew the boy had a very important mission.
The boy came to the edge of the crematory. His face is stiff and eyes bracing for an ordeal. The baby on his back looks deep asleep and head bent backward. The boy stood there for five or ten minutes.
Then the men with the white masks came towards him and started to untie his strap. At this moment, I realized that this baby brother he was carrying was dead.
The men gently held the baby’s arms and legs and slowly put him into the hole where the hot stones are laid. I could hear the steaming sound of the baby’s flesh burning. Then a gleaming red flare danced up in the air.
The bright red color like the sunset was reflecting on the yet tender boy’s cheek as he stood there straight and still. That moment, I realized that the boy was biting his lip and it was bleeding. He was biting hard as he gazed his little brother in flames.
When the flames had calmed down, the boy turned on his heels and left the place silently.
Joseph (Joe) Roger O’Donnell was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in May 7, 1922. He was known for documenting photographically the immediate aftermath of the atomic bomb explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 and 1946 as a Marine photographer.