Calvin Garland remembers walking through Nagasaki, Japan, a few months after the bombing and seeing the destruction caused by that attack that brought about the end of the war. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
Nearly 70 years later they are images not easily forgotten, and sometimes Calvin Garland sees them in his mind’s eye late at night when he wakes.
Ghost images. Created by the sudden flash of an atomic blast. People vaporized in an instant by “Fat Man” as it detonated in the sky above Nagasaki, Japan, 68 years ago today.
This attack killed an estimated 70,000 people and brought about the surrender of Japan in World War II.
Garland, who volunteered for the Navy at age 18 in 1945, was among the first U.S. troops to enter the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which was hit with an atomic weapon only days before Nagasaki. “Little Boy” was the name given to the Hiroshima bomb, detonated above that city Aug. 6.
See a gallery of photos at the end of this article for scenes from both bombed cities.
“The heat radiation was so intense that those in close proximity were removed as ash,” Garland said in a recent interview in his Johnson City home. “It hasn’t affected me emotionally much over the years, but I can still see those dark shadows.”
He and some other men left their ship and traveled to Nagasaki a couple months after the bomb was dropped. They came across one area that appeared to be a park with benches. A wall behind those benches was burned with the images of people who died in the blast.
“And that is what we saw on the walls was the images; heads, necks and trunks of the individuals who were sitting at that particular location when the explosion occurred,” Garland said.
He still sees those images late at night.
“All we did was just stroll through that area, awed actually by the destruction,” he said. “We’ve seen pictures of bombing in my training ... but never results of an explosion by an atomic bomb.
“I cannot tell you the kinds of destruction of buildings that had occurred. It’s not like a tornado. It’s not like a storm of any description that we had known before that time.”
Garland was with LST 222, one ship among many that was carrying men and material for a planned invasion of Japan.
Of course, none of the men were aware of the impending invasion.
“We found out later after the bombs were dropped on the 6th and 9th of August that the first invasion would have occurred on Nov. 1, 1945,” Garland said.
Had that invasion occurred, it would have been Garland’s job to drive the Higgins boat, an amphibious craft, loaded with Marines to the shore.
The ships waiting to invade still sailed on to Japan after the surrender and unloaded all their supplies and military personnel originally intended for a bloody fight to conquer the island nation.
His ship was then used to send Korean war prisoners home. He recalled seeing Koreans who were former prisoners being crammed onto ships like his to be taken back to their country.
During his stay in Japan, Garland served for a few weeks as a guard for Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He got to see Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s palace in Tokyo during this detail.
“That was an interesting activity,” Garland said. “A far different cry from what we thought we would be doing after the end of the war.
“Tojo’s palace was an elaborate structure. The front portion of the palace was protected by a small moat and a walk-across bridge.”
He said it looked like a scene out of a movie featuring Japanese homes.
While in Tokyo Garland saw the destruction caused by B-29 bombers that rained firebombs down on the city.
He recalled MacArthur as a strict military man who was all business.
“A lot of people have negative comments about MacArthur. A lot of people make negative comments about (Gen. George) Patton,” Garland said. “But as far as I’m concerned ... I’m proud that they were their in that position.”
Garland was stationed in Japan until July 1946.
In the post-war years, Garland taught public health at East Tennessee State University. Not many people knew of his service in WWII.
“I wanted to go,” Garland said. “I volunteered. I would still do that today.”