Henry Nagata, a teacher who convinced thousands of students to oppose nuclear weapons and paid a personal price for it, has died. He was 96.
Nagata, who survived the March 9, 1945, attack that killed his parents and relatives at Hiroshima’s Ohma Elementary School, died Dec. 20 of complications from pneumonia at Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto, his son-in-law David Makitsugu told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Sixty-two years after the first atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Nagata was active in inter-school and inter-civilian demonstrations against the use of nuclear weapons and its danger to human life.
He taught about the threat of nuclear weapons to the country and the importance of fighting for a world free of nuclear weapons by conducting anti-nuclear demonstration in the U.S. for nearly a decade before he retired in 1991, Makitsugu said.
Henry Nagata, 91, who survived a US atomic bomb attack on his Hiroshima school in 1945, would later teach schoolchildren about nuclear weapons & politics. Traveled all around USA to support local non-nuclear groups… pic.twitter.com/Bkx8HAcG9l — Servus USA (@ServusUSA) December 26, 2018
“He was devoted to protecting people’s safety and saving lives from nuclear war,” Makitsugu said.
Nagata himself was covered in fire-spewing plutonium fallout as he stepped out of the school. The metal on his clothing melted so much that it left a burn scar on his back when he got home to Hiroshima.
At 21, Nagata was close to death after a high fever and stomach pains. Doctors at the University Hospital offered him little hope. He beat the odds, however, by surviving nine weeks in the hospital. At 22, Nagata had undergone seven skin graft surgeries on his burns, one eye on one side was badly burned and the other was almost completely burned.
“He was more or less a total vegetable,” said Masami Yamaguchi, another son-in-law.
But he was able to lead a normal life in the city, where thousands of bombs were dropped, catching bus rides, going to movies and to work.
Nagata played the same piano with different musicians all his life. He taught others music, including Takahiko. His friends nicknamed him “Red Fire” because of his red face.
Takahiko Takanachi, 86, came to America with Nagata. He said Nagata’s illness was very painful to watch.
“I never thought he would be this ill,” Takanachi said. “Henry was my teacher and like a father to me. He was really a great and beautiful teacher.”
The Hiroshima American Society described Nagata as a victim of the U.S. atomic bombings.
“He was forced to return to school just three days after the atomic bombing to teach children, who wept as he gave lessons,” the society said in a statement. “Weariness had sapped his strength, and he worked on his hands and knees to talk in a building, where a hand of sunlight brushed his face.”
“When we marched in the streets with him, it was like he was speaking to a living text about what was happening in the world,” Tomoya Yajima, another son-in-law, said.
Makitsugu said his father-in-law was hopeful for a nuclear arms treaty.
“He just kept on living,” Makitsugu said. “I hope that one day he can be contacted by President Trump and tell him, ‘I’m still with you, you can still do good.’”