After fighting in World War II, George Botel is stationed in Japan and receives a rare gift from a local family. Botel also visits Hiroshima …

BERWICK — George Botel found a dish in the ruins of Hiroshima a few months after the city was destroyed by an atomic bomb.

“I picked it up and was surprised to find something in one piece,” said Botel.

The dish now sits in his house here, a souvenir from the attack that led to the end of World War II and probably saved his life.

Botel and some friends had traveled to Hiroshima from their base in Kobe, another city about 160 miles northeast.

They visited only the outskirts of Hiroshima for about 30 minutes; they were told entering the city was too dangerous.

Hiroshima appeared “gray” and “incinerated,” recalled Botel.

Many stone stairs ascended to nowhere because they led to houses that were destroyed, he added.

Botel felt nothing when he saw the ruins.

“We get numb to those things,” he said.

Flying cranes, swimming carp

But when Botel kicked at a pile of rubble, he found a white ceramic dish with its bottom facing upward.

A picture on the dish depicts two green hills with trees. Two cranes fly above the trees, and a golden carp swims in a river by the hills.

The dish was smaller than Botel’s palms but had stayed intact, except for a small chip on the edge.

Botel took the dish back to Kobe and later to America. He said he did not worry about exposing himself to possible radiation poisoning from the dish because he knew nothing about it.

Botel never had the dish tested because he feared the government might seize it.

“Hasn’t bothered me all these years,” he added.

Six years ago, Botel wrote a statement under oath before a public notary, saying he had found the dish in the ruins of Hiroshima.

He wanted his descendants to know it was not ordinary tableware.

Saving millions of lives

Botel said the bombing of Hiroshima saved many lives on both sides.

He said his unit had been told to expect 100 percent casualties if the Allies had invaded Japan. The unit had orders to land on a beach in Japan and clear landmines.

Allied leaders estimated more than 1 million casualties among their troops in the planned invasion, according to Botel.

“That’s a lot of people, especially if it’s going to be you,” he said.

After the war, many Japanese told Botel about their former rulers’ plans for resisting the invaders. He heard young children were taught to shoot rifles and to throw grenades; and teenagers were taught to carry out suicide attacks as kamikaze pilots.

“The majority of them would not give up unless someone told them to give up,” he said of the Japanese, “someone higher up.”

But Botel was also surprised by the lack of hostility toward Americans during his stay in Japan.

“The people lost the war, and they knew it,” he said.

“There was one thing about the Japanese people,” he added. “In Kira, Tokyo, Yokohama … they were cleaning up and starting to rebuild.”

“Farms were getting planted,” he said.

– GARY PANG, Press Enterprise writer, Dec. 7, 2005

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