Family shines light on American POW killed by Hiroshima blast

The images from the aftermath of Hiroshima are haunting, but for Susan Archinski and her husband Tony, they're also personal.

The photos are a stark reminder of the American prisoners of war who were trapped in Hiroshima when America detonated the first atomic bomb. One of them was Susan's uncle, Normand Brissette.

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Normand Brissette, a 19-year-old Navy gunner, was held as a POW during WWII. He died after the Hiroshima blast.

Family of Normand Brissette

She and Tony said he was very close to the epicenter of the bomb."They were right underneath it. Like, 900 meters from the epicenter."

The explosion ripped through the city, killing 80,000 people instantly.

Twelve POWs were held captive inside a police station. Archinski's uncle Normand was a 19-year-old gunner whose plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan nine days earlier.

"They were hit with anti-aircraft artillery, and they landed in the water smoking," Tony explained. "And the last anybody ever knew, they were floating in the ocean," Susan said.

Having defied the odds once, Brissette also miraculously survived the initial bomb blast, along with Army Sergeant Ralph Neal.

"It is believed that they were probably in a different part of the building when the bomb went off, because ten of them perished instantly," Tony said.

To save themselves, the two men dove into a cesspool. When they emerged, the city was in ruins. Whole neighborhoods were gone, while people lay dying in the streets. Those still walking were poisoned by radiation.

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Susan Archinski and her husband Tony

CBS News

A short time later, they were picked up by the Japanese military, where Brissette met another American serviceman heading home.

"No one would have ever known they were there had the truck not come through town. They put them on the truck, and they were able to tell the other POWs what happened to them."

Brissette and Neal died soon after from radiation sickness. "They're victims," Susan said, "and they should be known as victims just like everybody else."

Today, the twelve POWs are remembered at the Hiroshima memorial alongside the Japanese victims.

"You can't go to the Peace Memorial Park, without knowing that everybody's main goal is for this to never happen again."

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.