Aug 6, 2010 -- Their skin is charred. Their bones melted away. Many watched their parents die. Yet they consider themselves the lucky ones. 65 years ago, they survived the unimaginable: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
They are called the Hibakusha. They are a unique group which hopes their dramatic stories will convey the need to eliminate the scourge that nearly killed them during two days that changed the world, 65 years ago.
Mikiso Iwasa says August 6th, 1945 began like any other day. "It was a hot summer day, and the cicadas were singing," said Iwasa. Then the sound changed.
"We heard the sound…from the north and the children screamed. It's a plane! It's a plane!," he recalled.
During that day in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, survival rested solely on being in the right place at the right time.
Iwasa believes he survived the atomic bomb dropped out of the U.S. B-29 plane, named the Enola Gay, only because he was sheltered directly behind his home.
While then seven-year-old Michiko Kodoma's classmates played outside, she went inside her wooden elementary school that day, to take her seat. Suddenly she saw a light.
"I saw a bright blast, and I saw yellow and silver and orange and all sorts of colors that I can't explain. Those colors came and attacked us, and the ceiling beams of the wooden school along with the glass from the window pane all shattered and blew away all at once."
Kodoma says what she witnessed next are horrors that no child should ever experience. "[There were] people whose eyeballs had popped out their sockets. There were those who held their babies – burnt black; they themselves had no skin. There were those whose intestines had come out of their bodies, and confused they struggled to put them back in."
After the blast, Kodoma's father found her and carried her to safety on his back. Together, they tried to save her older sister, but here injuries were too severe.
"Three days later, she leaned on me and passed away," Kodoma said.
The initial bomb blast on Hiroshima is believed to have killed 70,000 people.
Bombing Ends War: Not Nuclear Threat
The horror did not end. On August 9, and 230 miles south of Hiroshima, similar scenes of death and anguish unfolded again; this time in Nagasaki.
65 years later, time has healed many of the wounds inflicted by Japan and the United States on each other. Today, it is hard for younger generations to even fathom that these staunch allies were once bitter enemies.
The Hibakusha, which in Japanese means explosion-affected people, fear that time has also made people forget. Their numbers continue to dwindle, leaving them little time to remind people of the horrors they experienced.
The group travels around Japan and the world, preaching tolerance and peace.
In May, many of them struggled to board planes, perhaps for the final time. They travelled to New York for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Talks held at the United Nations. They wanted to seize the momentum created by the Obama administration and other global leaders who are fighting to stop nuclear proliferation.
Sumiteru Taniguchi, still struggling from his injuries, travels with respiratory equipment. He tells his tale and lifts his shirt with arms that reveal melted skin to show the world where his rib cage had once been.
"Every day I wondered when I would die. Every day I would scream, Kill me! Kill me!"
Mikiso Iwasa, who had taken refuge behind his house, returned days later to search for his mother. She had been burnt beyond recognition.
"That wasn't a human, it was a thing. My mother was killed as a thing. Not as a human."
For a month afterward, he says he walked through the streets of Hiroshima looking for his sister and any help he could find.
"After that month, I started showing symptoms of illness – red spots appeared on my body, my throat hurt, I couldn't eat, I had a temperature, my gums bled, and my hair fell out. For 20 days I remained in bed, on the verge of death," said Iwasa.
"For 12 years the Hibakusha were left to themselves. So we helped each other. Especially because we were sick, we [couldn't] work. "If we do get a job, we get sick again. We lived with our sickness."
Seeking to Rid the World of Nuclear Weapons
Many who survived the bomb, died later because of a lack of medical infrastructure and assistance from the Japanese government, which was struggling to recover from the attacks. Radiation sickness was not understood in the years immediately following the bombings, and many of the Hibakusha found themselves ostracized from society.
But in 1957, 12 years after the explosions, a law was enacted, formally recognizing the survivors as the Hibakusha, and they were finally able to receive the medical treatment they deserved.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists estimates there are nearly 8,000 operational nuclear weapons around the world.
After a year of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia agreed in March to the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades. If the START treaty is ratified by the Senate and Russian Parliament, it will cut the nuclear arsenals of both countries from around 2,200 deployed warheads each to 1,550.
The Hibakusha are quick to remind the world that it took merely two bombs, considered weak by today's standards, to wreak absolute devastation.
As they gather in the now rebuilt cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on they are using the 65th anniversary of the bombings to warn the world of what they suffered.
"We have overcome and in order to not let the human race experience such atrocities, we have come to say abolish nuclear weapons and never create Hibakusha again," said Iwasa. "This is not something that we're doing for ourselves, but for you and all people to never have to experience this again."