HIROSHIMA – Tetsuko Shakuda was a frightened 14-year-old when she resumed her work as a conductor on a tram line in the devastated city of Hiroshima, just three days after the atomic bomb exploded 75 years ago, badly damaging the tracks and most of the trams.
Shakuda was one of a group of young women trained for such work as the war intensified and growing numbers of male workers were drafted to fight.
The bomb that exploded on Aug. 6, 1945, changed everything. As that first tram on Aug. 9 moved through Hiroshima, it passed huge piles of rubble and decomposing bodies.
“Many different kinds of people, including the injured, were pushing to get onto the train,” Shakuda, 89, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I remember thinking ‘wow’ about everything I saw.”
She recalls the time as the most harrowing of her life.
“The ceiling of the tram was black with swarms of packed flies,” Shakuda wrote in a memoir. “They buzzed around loudly. It felt creepy to think that these same flies had been eating those who died from the atomic bombing.”
Fares were free after the bombing, and survivors saw the train as a symbol of hope and continuity amid the devastation. Shakuda considered her work on the tram part of a vital wartime mission for her country.
Her path to that work began when, hoping to become a teacher, Shakuda entered a home economics school for girls established by the Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. in April 1945. It was supposed to teach girls sewing and teaching. Instead, they learned how to work on city trains.