English, Fake News

This narrative of a soldier asking the Japanese boy in this photo to throw away his sibling’s dead body has no conclusive evidence


A photo is being shared on social media claiming it as an emotional picture of a Japanese boy carrying his dead sister to a cremation ground during World War II. According to the post, when a soldier asked this boy to throw away his sister’s dead body, the boy refused to leave his sister and said, “She’s not heavy, she’s my sister”. Let’s verify the claim made in the post.

The archived version of the post can be seen here.

Claim: Picture of a Japanese child carrying his dead sister to a cremation ground during World War II.

Fact: The photo shared in the post shows an iconic picture that was taken in Japan after US Nuclear attack in 1945. The photo shows a Japanese boy standing in military posture and carrying his deceased younger brother on his back at a cremation ground in Nagasaki. This photo was captured by the US Marine Corps photographer, Joe O’ Donnel. There is no conclusive evidence of any such conversation between soldiers and the boy about throwing away his sibling’s dead body. Hence, the claim made in the post is MISLEADING.

On reverse image search of the photo shared in the post, the same photo was found published on the ‘Rare Historical Photos’ website. The description of the photo states, “A Japanese boy standing at attention after having brought his dead younger brother to a cremation pyre, 1945”. This photo was reportedly captured by the US Marine photographer Joe O’ Donnel in 1945.

In 1945, after Japan surrendered to the US, Joe O’ Donnel was sent by the US military to document the damage inflicted on the Japanese homeland by air raids of firebombs and atomic bombs. Years later, Joe O’ Donnel spoke to a Japanese interviewer about this picture and said, “I saw a boy about ten years old walking by. He was carrying a baby on his back. In those days in Japan, we often saw children playing with their little brothers or sisters on their backs, but this boy was clearly different. I could see that he had come to this place for a serious reason. He was wearing no shoes. His face was hard. The little head was tipped back as if the baby were fast asleep. The boy stood there for five or ten minutes”. He further added, “The men in white masks walked over to him and quietly began to take off the rope that was holding the baby. That is when I saw that the baby was already dead. The men held the body by the hands and feet and placed it on the fire. The boy stood there straight without moving, watching the flames. He was biting his lower lip so hard that it shone with blood. The flame burned low like the sun going down. The boy turned around and walked silently away”. Joe O’ Donnel had never mentioned that the boy was asked to throw away his brother’s dead body. Several news websites published articles and videos related to this iconic picture taken in Nagasaki in 1945. They can be seen here, here, and here.

A selection of Joe O’ Donnel documented photos was first published in the ‘Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine’s Photographs from Ground Zero’ book. A few pictures from the Joe O’ Donnel collection were also published on the ‘Five College Consortium’ website.

To sum it up, this narrative of a soldier asking the Japanese boy in the photo to throw away his sibling’s dead body during World War II has no conclusive evidence.


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