“It was kind of awesome to be there,” are the words Joseph Mrosko of Pana used to describe his tour of duty in Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II. Mrosko’s job was to photographically record the results of the second atomic blast directed on the Japanese. Today, August 9, marks the 39th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.

Owner of a well-established photographic studio in Pana, Mrosko, 59, had been a 2nd Marine Division combat photographer in the Pacific theater before being sent to Nagasaki within two months of the Japanese surrender.

“We went to Nagasaki in 1945 to photograph all the damage done by the atomic bomb. Our work was to walk the city, block by block, taking pictures from ground zero to the outer edge of the city to show the destruction.

“We had a team of one movie camera man, a reporter, a Japanese interpreter and myself as the still photographer.”

Mrosko said he “took hundreds” of pictures for Marine Corps Intelligence and was able to save a few for himself as shown on these pages.

Possibly because of the passed time or a seeming desire to forget, Mrosko could not specifically identify the date or locations of his subjects. His Nagasaki collection of at least 13 black and white photographs is included in a war photo album. They are not singled out or set aside from his other photographs.

The pictures in this issue attempt to show the widest view of the areas affected. Note that some buildings remain conspicuously intact, especially in the photo of the roofless cathedral.

Contrary to what may be a popular belief, Mrosko said all of Nagasaki was not destroyed in the blast: “You think of Nagasaki as obliterated, but it wasn’t.” In fact, Mrosko said his average routine included photography work during the day and staying away from Marine M.P.s while “running around” at night.

He also became acquainted and made friends with some of the Japanese. Mrosko had by then learned the Japanese language from an interpreter. “The Japanese were great. No ill feelings or problems at all.”

He also found no signs of the derogatory or sinister Japanese caricatured in the propaganda of the times. “It was kind of surprising. They’re no different than any other people in small towns.”

“The cooperation by the Japanese was excellent. No Marines were sent with us for protection to avoid any hostility,” Mrosko noted of his stay in Nagasaki and other areas in Japan.

Unable to say exactly when he arrived in Nagasaki, Mrosko was able to determine from a dated picture that his stay was between the August 9 bombing and the end of October that year. Mrosko said he saw no corpses in the city or wounded walking the streets. Mass burnings of the dead were in fact ordered by government officials shortly after the blast. But some accounts have stated there were uncovered dead for up to a month afterwards.

At one time during his block by block photo survey, Mrosko said he came to the shell of a building in a “completely demolished” area. While kicking through the rubble inside, he noticed some gold tooth caps. There was no body or skeleton in sight.

Mrosko said neither he nor the other Marines were then worried with the possible side effects posed by exposure to the blast area. “At the time, we weren’t concerned about possibilities of radiation since our knowledge then was very limited. I (have) had no contact with any of the Marines in Nagasaki so I don’t know if any of them suffered any radiation sickness over the years.”

Then 20 years old, Mrosko said he could not recall as much about Nagasaki as he would like because he did not pay much attention to details. “We were young. You pulled out and that’s it. Go on to the next assignment.

“After completing our work in Japan — (Mrosko also photographed the coast line installations of Kyushu where the US invasion was planned) — we flew into China to record the war between the Nationalist and Communist Chinese until I was discharged in May 1946.”

So devastating were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings on August 6 and 9, 1945 that Japan surrendered three days later and effectively ended World War II.

Having recently returned from a trip to Germany, Mrosko said he likes to travel, but has no desire to ever revisit Nagasaki or Japan. During the interview he said, “I didn’t want to remember. I think I wiped it from my mind.”

Appeared in Pana-News Palladium (Pana, IL), August 9, 1984.
Photo by Joseph Mrosko.