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"Hiroshima's First Victims"
Page 2 of 2
by: Arnold Kramish
|The Rocky Mountain News Sunday: August 6, 1995 Reprinted with Permission Web Master's Notes are in RED|
"Before bomb fell, two Americans paid ultimate price"
CONTINUED - The uranium that was not released in the accident went into the Hiroshima bomb. Thus, the injured five at Philadelphia were in a sense, the first victims of Hiroshima, a year before the bomb was actually dropped.
But there was another victim too - a final victim, the Navy chaplain who gave last rites to those who had died soon after the accident and was a comfort to those who lived. He was Lt. Cmdr. Louis V. McDonough. I later learned that he had been pastor of St. Joseph Parish, in State Center, Iowa, until he joined the Navy in January 1944.
Father McDonough administered last rites to Bragg and Meigs as they died on the floor near me. A physician, pointing to me, said, "He's next." Certain fundamentals dominate when one is told he is dying. With the slight vigor left in me, I rejected the blessing for my soul; it was not that of my faith. Then I lapsed into unconsciousness.
In Denver, the KLZ news ticker announced my demise. Newscaster Morey Sharp, a cousin, rushed to S. Lincoln Street to be at my parents side. My father, John, was in the shoe shop, but shortly after Morey arrived, someone phoned to tell my mother, Sarah, that I was dead. She fainted. Fortunately, as Morey was on his way to tell my father the sad news, KLZ phoned to say I was alive.
My mother was my first visitor at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. For three days, she had carried on the train (a priority flight had been denied) a large jar of chicken soup. We were under armed guard on the fifth floor of the Naval hospital, but when she arrived she pushed the guards away, charged into my room, raised my oxygen tent and fed me the well-matured chicken soup - Jewish penicillin for all ills.
A while later, Father McDonough came and gently admonished me that I had blasphemed the Lord. I replied, "Well, Father, it worked didn't it?" We had a good laugh. Ever after, I credit both "cures" for my survival.
Throughout my life, those moments remained vivid, although I did not remember the chaplain's name. In 1980, I wrote to Cmdr. Herbert Bergsma of the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office. Within days, he called, saying he had found the Navy Yard chaplain, who wanted to speak to me right away because he was gravely ill.
I telephoned Father McDonough at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His memory of the Philadelphia accident was as vivid as mine, and, once more, we laughed at my blasphemy and the chicken soup. He was in hospital with skin and prostate cancer. He said he was coming along fine, but since he had prayed for me, in spite of my rejection, would I pray for him. I promised I would.
He offered to supply his remembrances of the event if I would write. Then he asked, "By the way, what was that yellow gas?" The question was understandable, for Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, had lowered a veil of secrecy over the accident. In ministering to the accident victims, the chaplain had acquired a substantial coating of the substance on his hands. I told him the gas was uranium hexafluoride.
"Uranium? You mean for the atom bomb?" he asked.
"Yes, Father," I replied. The line went dead.
"Father? Father?" I kept repeating for about a minute, until I heard the dial tone.
I wrote to Father McDonough and a reply came from his executor, saying that "I regret to inform you that our wonderful Father Louis V. McDonough passed away March 28, 1980, at 12:15 PM." - just after we had spoken. The good father and I had just come full circle; having met when I was supposed to be dying and again when he himself was at the point of death.
He died of a heart attack. What were his thoughts after we spoke and I awaited his reply? That question still haunts me. Quietly, I recited the Mourner's Kaddish for an early and final victim of Hiroshima.
Arnold Kramish worked at six sites of the Manhattan Project, including Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. He is the author of "The Griffin" (Houghton Mifflin 1986) and of the forthcoming "Show Me a Hero: The Final Secret".
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