August 26, 2015
U.S. refused to treat former POW atomic bomb survivor
VICTORIA, British Columbia -- A former Dutch soldier held by Japan as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki during World War II had appealed to U.S. authorities to treat him for what he believed were the residual effects of exposure to the atomic bomb dropped on the city by the U.S. on Aug. 9, 1945, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.
Rudi Hoenson, 92, was being held at the Fukuoka No. 14 POW Camp when the atomic bomb was dropped some 1.7 kilometers away. Dutch researchers located his name on a roster of POWs who had been held at the encampment, and in a follow-up investigation, the Mainichi discovered that Hoenson had immigrated to Victoria, B.C., Canada, and was still living there.
Exchanges between scientists regarding Hoenson's case were found in the archives of the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, the founding organization of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), which researched the effects of radiation from atomic bombs on humans.
In a letter he sent to a doctor in New York in July 1950, Hoenson wrote that he suffered weight loss, fatigue, eye pain, and bleeding from the gums, which were symptoms found in atomic bomb survivors. Suspecting that he, too, had been exposed to radiation from the bomb, Hoenson sought to be treated as a member of a military that fought alongside the U.S.
Consulted by the doctor who received the note, senior officials at the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council did not respond favorably. Records indicated one as saying, "Mr. Hoenson's symptomatology, as outlined by himself, does not suggest residual radiation disease." Others, meanwhile, doubted Hoenson's claim of illness itself, writing, "the POWs at Nagasaki were at such distance from the hypocenter that residual radiation effects seemed unlikely," and "We believed that he might be using this as an excuse to get into the U.S.A."
Along with his fellow POWs, Hoenson, who was at the camp when the bomb was dropped, subsequently went through the city center to evacuate, and was also put to work clearing away dead bodies, he told the Mainichi. He also said that his urine was "the color of black coffee with a reddish tint" on the morning after the bombing, and that he lost hair. In 1950, there was little information available about the residual effects of atomic bomb exposure, and although Hoenson consulted doctors in the Netherlands, he was unable to receive effective treatment. The fatigue and lethargy experienced by atomic bomb survivors was reported early on in Japan, and was later named "genbaku burabura byo," or "atomic bomb lethargy sickness;" its symptoms almost completely match those Hoenson experienced. However, whether such symptoms were caused by radiation has not been verified.
The Japanese government's relief measures for atomic bomb survivors in Japan were introduced in 1957. Today, atomic bomb survivors who live abroad are also eligible for Japanese government certification of their exposure to the bomb, for which Hoenson has not applied. While he says he has no intention of seeking compensation from the U.S., he maintains that he stayed near the hypocenter for days after the bombing, and cannot think of any other reason for his poor health. "We did not know about radiation then," he says, but "now I know (my health issues) were due to radiation."
Experts say that while prisoners of war from the Allied Powers are known to have been killed or injured in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this is the first time that documents confirming that a former prisoner had sought treatment for aftereffects from the U.S. have been found.
Former Dutch soldier and POW opens up about atomic bomb experience
VICTORIA, British Columbia -- Surprised by the discovery that letters he wrote decades ago about his poor health had been kept in U.S. archives, and confronted with the reality of his advanced age, local philanthropist Rudi Hoenson has opened up about his long-kept secret: that he survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
A former Dutch soldier who immigrated to Canada in 1951 and eventually became a successful entrepreneur, Hoenson, now 92, had been forthcoming about his experience as a prisoner of war in World War II. But he had avoided speaking about surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki for fear people would think he was "showing off." After suffering a minor stroke a few months ago, however, he decided it was time to tell younger generations about his experience, albeit 70 years after it took place, he told the Mainichi Shimbun in Victoria.
Hoenson was taken captive by the Imperial Japanese Army on the Indonesian island of Java in March 1942, and was transported to the Fukuoka No. 14 POW Camp in the city of Nagasaki in April 1943. There, he was forced to work as a welder at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard. He was heavily monitored and brutally beaten by military police. Over 70 prisoners died of pneumonia the first winter at the shipyard since they were hardly allowed any breaks, and were only given low-quality rain gear despite it being windy and wet, Hoenson said.
On Aug. 9, 1945, at 11:02 a.m., Hoenson, who was standing near the camp, collapsed from the blast of the atomic bomb. Because he'd been in the shadow of a smoke stack, however, he sustained no major injuries. Three prisoners who'd been right in front of him, meanwhile, were not so lucky -- their clothes went up in flames, and they suffered burns all over their bodies.
As he tried to escape the blazing fire all around him, Hoenson saw Japanese women and children with their clothes charred and their faces and bodies torn apart. That night, he slept with a gravely injured friend in his arms. Later, he and his fellow prisoners were ordered to clear away the dead bodies. "We pulled some (bodies) out (from the debris) but had to be very careful not to pull too hard or we would end up with an arm or a leg," Hoenson explained.
According to the Nagasaki Municipal Government and other authorities, eight prisoners from the Fukuoka No. 14 POW Camp died from the atomic bomb blast. Hoenson recalled, however, that by the time the U.S. military liberated the prisoners in mid-September, some 20 had died of their wounds.
The health symptoms Hoenson developed after returning home closely resembled those of people who had radiation sickness from the atomic bomb. Doctors in the Netherlands were never able to pinpoint the cause of his health issues, however, and Hoenson's hope of receiving cutting-edge treatment in the U.S. never came true. Eventually, he recovered.
Still, he and his wife, whom he met in Canada, decided not to have children. "At the time, there was much talk about babies being born deformed with no arms or legs," he said.
The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki by the U.S. military indiscriminately killed many civilians, as well as prisoners of war from the Allied Powers. Hoenson believes, however, that if the atomic bombs had not been dropped on Japan and its cities had been subjected to more conventional bombings, the likes of which were seen in Tokyo, there would have been even more casualties. "I agree with the decision to drop the A-bomb ... even if it had killed me," Hoenson said. Still, as someone with first-hand experience of what happened on Aug. 9, 1945, he added, "I hope nobody ever uses it again."