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Dr. James Yamazaki studied Hiroshima and Nagasaki's atomic children
Dr. James Yamazaki studied Hiroshima and Nagasaki's atomic children.
“This used to be marsh and reeds,” said Dr. James Yamazaki, 93, as we pass by Maltman Avenue on Wilshire Boulevard approaching Koreatown. “Now look at all these big buildings!”

I was chauffering Yamazaki and his wife of 65 years, Aki, to the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. Documentarian Steve Schecter was also in our carpool. Schecter [was] filming a documentary about Yamazaki’s remarkable life and march towards peace.

We were headed for “A Conversation with Dr. James Yamazaki” sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA) and coordinated by its Associate Director, Denise Duffield, who is also EnviroReporter.com’s editor and designer.

See a gallery of photographs of the event here.

In 1985, PSR shared the Nobel Peace Prize with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, “for spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare.”

PSR-LA awarded Dr. Yamazaki its 2008 Socially Responsible Medicine Award for his life’s work which “helped chart the dangers of nuclear radiation and presents powerful observations of both the medical and social effects of the bomb,” as the back cover of his book reads – “Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician’s Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands

Listening to him talk as we drove down Wilshire Boulevard on a picture perfect Los Angeles day, I realized this man had lived more lives than seem possible.

Lt. James Yamazaki
Lt. James Yamazaki

Jim Yamazaki joined the army before Pearl Harbor. When shipping out for Europe, where Japanese-American troops were deemed “safe” to fight, he went to see his parents in a wartime internment camp in Arkansas.

After completing his medical education in Wisconsin, Yamazaki was assigned to the 106th Infantry Division as a Combat Medic (Battalion Surgeon). On December 6, 1944, the “Golden Lion” division landed in France and embarked on the Rhineland Campaign.

Ten days later, the Germans launched a bold strike through the forested Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg on the Western Front. The offensive was called Operation “Watch on the Rhine” by the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht.

With over 800,000 men committed and over 19,000 killed, the Battle of the Bulge became the single biggest and bloodiest battle that American forces fought in World War II. We won that battle but paid a very high price in the process. Jim paid it personally.

Yamazaki was captured by the Germans and then force-marched 800 miles as a prisoner of war. He managed to survive but that wouldn’t surprise you if you know the man.

Yamazaki wasn’t the only Japanese-American fighting in Europe. The 3,800 men of the 442nd Infantry were of Jim’s ancestry and earned the nickname “The Purple Heart Battalion.” The unit fought valiantly across with Italy, southern France, and Germany and became the most highly decorated military unit in the history of the United States Armed Forces. The 442nd alone had 21 Medal of Honor recipients and famously rescued the “Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains in October 1944. These kind of heroics exacted a high price. U.S. Army battle reports show the official casualty rate was 93%. Wounded soldiers reportedly would often escape from hospitals to return to fight in the front line battles.

After the war, at the age of 33, the US government asked Dr. Yamazaki to head the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. From 1949 to 1951, he worked with children in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and with Marshall Islanders who suffered from American postwar nuclear testing. His research focused on the effects of radiation on fetuses, and as his team had predicted, devastating abnormalities were seen in babies who were yet unborn when the bombs hit, and numerous mothers experienced still-births or miscarriages.

Upon his return to the US, Dr. Yamazaki continued his dedicated research on the effects of radiation on children, became a clinical professor of pediatrics at UCLA, and maintained a pediatric practice. He has continued to promote nuclear disarmament and also to follow the effects of nuclear radiation on generations of families in Japan throughout his career.

In partnership with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Dr. Yamazaki has established a website ChildrenoftheAtomicBomb.com.

And all this time, this genuine American hero has been married to the love of his life, Aki. Denise’s special affection for this couple is a delight to behold, and Jim and I relate so well that it feels like I’ve known him forever.

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  1. Sister Mary Margaret

    Message from His Holiness Pope Francis, delivered this morning (Dec 8) by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. This was part of the opening plenary of the Vienna Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Conference. Posted as a pdf to the conf. website.


    ​Excerpts for your perusal:

    “The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are predictable and planetary.”

    “Military codes and international law, among others, have long banned peoples from inflicting unnecessary suffering. If such suffering is banned in the waging of conventional war, then it should all the more be banned in nuclear conflict.”

    “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethic of fraternity and peaceful coexistence ​among peoples ans states. The youth of today and tomorrow deserve far more.”

    “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations. To prioritize such spending is a mistake and a misallocation of resources which would be far better invested in the areas of integral human development, education, health and the fight against extreme poverty. When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.”

    “‘A world without nuclear weapons” is a goal shared by all nations and echoed by world leaders, as well as the aspiration of millions of men and women. The future and survival of the human family hinges on moving beyond this ideal and ensuring that it becomes a reality.

    “I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.”

  2. What an informative story.

    The comments below also bring the point home. Considering Mr. T’s comment was written almost 5 years ago, it’s warning of observations remain insightful.

    What’s happening around the world today thanks to Fukushima Japan’s ongoing triple meltdowns, (as of March 2011), may be harder on the generations to come than we can imagine.

  3. How interesting! My Dad was also in this camp.My brother has spinal problems, as do I. I have Graves disease of the thyroid. My Dad died, aged 58. They truly are the forgotten heroes.

  4. My Father was a Royal Navy Signalman taken Prisoner when his ship was sunk in the Java Sea on 1st March 1942, He was Transported to Nagasaki in a POW camp named Fukuoka camp 2b in Nagasaki bay, on an island called Koyagi Shima which now does not exist as it has been land filled and is part of the mainland, the camp was named Fukuoka in a vain attempt to conceal its location as many other camps were.

    My Father worked as a riveter at the Kawaminami docks which is now owned by mitsubishi Co.

    He was there for 3yrs until the Day they dropped the A bomb, My father was in the camp at the time as he was injured at the docks and could not work. the camp was partially destroyed by the bomb and they all felt the hot wind and amazing explosion, they all thought the Ammo dump on the mainland had been hit.

    My father survived the war but died in 1974 aged 52, he was never well at any time after the war.

    He had 3 children and to date we have had several things wrong with all of us. My younger Brother (aged 43) has a long term uncureable illness he has so called MS of the SPINE and has had it for several years before he knew he had it, He also had in his early 20’s a tumour in his testical, which he overcame.

    My father always suffered with his back and they said that he had Arthritis in his SPINE.

    My Sister ( age 56) has had thyroid problems and had an operation some years ago, I did some research and found out that female Nuclear Power plant workers in the US have had problems with thyroid, the power plants were all Plutonium based, and the A bomb at nagasaki was Plutonium.

    Myself, (aged 54) I have had no problems on the scale of my siblings, but I am infertile, I have had a daughter with iVF treatment and when they tested my samples they saw that so many sperm were already dead. I was very lucky and had my daughter, after 2 attempts with IVF.

    We believe that all the conditions we have had are due to our Father passing this one biologically to us.

    I went to my family doctor and had him write down my fathers past on my own Medical records and also my daughters so if anything else happens we at least have a clue as to why.

    I had contacted the research centre in Nagasaki and they told me any tests they make on people would need to be Japanese citizens in fact they deny any knowledge of any POW camps in the area, which is ludicrous as there were many camps with thousands of workers. I also contacted the US partner of the centre but they are under the nagasaki and are powerless as they are a very junior partner, as I understand it.

    As for the UK they do not care about any of this subject. What happened in Japan in 1945 does not interest them.

    So are we just paranoid? or just talking nonsense?, are all of these things coincidence? well if anyone could convince anyone in authority or any experts in this field please do! as our attempts have failed. They did not care in 1945 and they do not care now.

    Mr T

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