Tsutomu Yamaguchi: The Man Who Survived Both Atomic Bombs

A stamp may have sealed the fate of Tsutomu Yamaguchi on August 6, 1945. A 29-year-old naval engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Yamaguchi had spent the previous three months in Hiroshima, Japan trying to design a 5,000-ton oil tanker, according to Timeline. Now it was time to leave, but he had left his inkan (personal stamp for documents) at his boarding house. So instead of boarding his bus to the shipyard office, he went to fetch his stamp. On the way back a B-29 bomber caught Yamaguchi's attention. He had no idea how awful things were about to get.

Before that morning, almost no one on Earth thought a 10-foot-long bomb could produce a 1,200-foot-wide fireball that burned hotter than the sun or unleash enough destructive force to level a whole city. But according to the Week, the atomic bomb dubbed "Little Boy" did both of those unthinkable things. Yamaguchi saw the Enola Gay deploy Little Boy and compared the light from the blast to a "flash of magnesium." At the time he had been walking by a potato patch, so he jumped into an irrigation ditch. The explosion's epicenter was roughly 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) away, yet Yamaguchi got launched into the air by the resulting shockwave. He spun "like a small tornado" and lost consciousness.

The wrath of Fat Man

Yamaguchi awoke to a nightmare. As History details, the atomic attack on Hiroshima sent so much dust dust into the sky, it blocked the sun. Yamaguchi suffered ruptured eardrums and burns so severe that his family later failed to recognize him. Yamaguchi recalled, "I didn't hear human speech, or shouts, just the sound of the city burning. Under the bridge there were many more bodies, bobbing in the water like blocks of wood."

Yamaguchi was desperate to reunite with his wife and children in Nagasaki. He dragged his burned and battered body to the Mitsubishi office, where he discovered that two coworkers who caught the morning bus had survived. The trio tried to make their way to a train station. Along the way, one of them got lost. They had to navigate fires and melted corpses. Yamaguchi swam across a river filled with dead bodies. He arrived in Nagasaki on August 8, the day before the United States bombed the city. Despite his horrific injuries, he reported for work the next morning and described his ordeal.

The boss refused to believe a single bomb could cause such destruction and assumed Yamaguchi had lost his mind. Suddenly, the nuke known as "Fat Man" dropped. The blast blew the bandages off of Yamaguchi's body but didn't inflict serious injuries. Ignoring his boss's pleas for help, he crawled away and went to find his family. Luckily, they were mostly uninjured. However, decades later his son and wife would die of cancer. Yamaguchi developed cancer as well but survived. He died at the age of 93.