When she was a young girl, Misako Katani, now 76, went to school in Hiroshima. During the war, she was among students mobilized by the military, and she was sent to work in an infirmary. At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, she looked out the infirmary window and saw a bright, blinding flash cut through the sky.

The infirmary was 4 kilometers from ground zero. The blast knocked Katani off her feet. Broken shards of glass were imbedded in her head, and she became the infirmary's first bomb victim to undergo surgery - without anesthesia.

Her father and younger sister survived but her mother, a younger sister and great-grandmother all perished. One week later on Aug. 15, Katami and her younger sister left for Nagasaki, carrying three urns of ashes to be interred in their family tomb. Katani's father was too busy working to go himself.

Bombed on Aug. 9, Nagasaki was a smoldering ruin when Katani and her sister arrived in the city. The two young girls walked streets strewn with charred bodies. Somehow, they made their way to the family temple and placed their mother's, sister's and great-grandmother's ashes in the family tomb. During all this time and having no way of knowing, the girls' bodies were being bombarded by background radiation. They were completely oblivious to what was happening to them.

LOSS OF HAIR, LOSS OF BABIES

Anyone who entered either Hiroshima or Nagasaki within two weeks of the atomic bombings, the period when residual radiation was still high, is considered an A-bomb victim. Katani thus became a "double atomic bomb" victims.

Back in Hiroshima, her gums began to bleed. The bleeding wouldn't stop. She soon lost her hair, and there was blood in her feces. She then fell into unconsciousness, but miraculously, she woke up again a month later. Later on after she married, however, she had three miscarriages.

"Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a living hell. I hate nuclear warfare," she said in the documentary film, "Nijyuu Hibaku" (Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: The Double Atomic Bomb Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki)" that was released this year.

In the film by 55-year-old director Hidetaka Inazuka, seven survivors who lived through both atomic bombs recount their experiences. These people suffered the terror of an atomic blast, not once - but twice.

For a long time, no one knew such double-bombing victims existed. It was not until last year, after Katani donated her memoir to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims, that their existence was officially noted.

After her donation, officials at the Peace Memorial Hall went into their archives and researched other memoirs and data on 130,000 bomb victims. They discovered as many as 160 people who likely suffered injuries from both bombs.

The second atomic bomb followed three days after the first. At the time, the population of Hiroshima was 350,000 and Nagasaki's was 240,000. By the end of 1945, roughly 140,000 people had been killed in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.

WHY DID THE UNITED STATES DROP TWO BOMBS?

In fact, the United States had built three nuclear bombs. They exploded one plutonium bomb during a test in the desert in New Mexico. By August 1945, they were left with one uranium bomb and one plutonium bomb.

The uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; the plutonium on Nagasaki. Although the United States had already tested a plutonium bomb in the desert, that test was detonated on the earth's surface. Military researchers must have wanted to see what would happen when the bombs were detonated in the air.

After bombing Hiroshima, then-U.S. President Harry Truman announced: "We spent $2 billion on the greatest scientific gamble in history - and won." Nowhere in this victorious speech is there any hint or acknowledgement of the hellish horror that the bomb unleashed under its mushroom cloud.

In fighting a war whose outcome will determine the fate of a nation, leaders will do anything in their power to win. They will use any and all weapons at their disposal. We cannot expect a country at war to show any kind of restraint. If a country has nuclear weapons, it will use them, unconcerned about whether they are nuclear or chemical.

War is merciless and brutal. The double-bomb victims are living reminders of this cruel fact. Nuclear bombs are devastatingly destructive, but not only that, we know that they unleash relentless suffering upon even survivors of the initial blast.

Medical science has yet to fully explain how and why bomb radiation damages the human body. One study tragically predicts that 60 to 70 percent of the cancer-related fatalities that will ultimately be caused by the radiation from these two atomic bombs have yet to occur. The former dean of Nagasaki University, Hideo Tsuchiyama, reached this conclusion based on research collected by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation over a period of 47 years.

Despite the well-known horrors, nuclear weapons development continues in North Korea and is strongly suspected in Iran. And India, Pakistan and Israel have rejected the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Today, 61 years after the devastation of Hiroshima, there is more, not less, danger of nuclear war than ever before. Standing up against the likelihood of such a horrible occurrence, Nagasaki is following Hiroshima in making their protests heard around the world.

HIROSHIMA'S ANGER, NAGASAKI'S PRAYERS

Some historians say that the two cities reacted differently to their nuclear devastation. The usual view is that "Hiroshima is angry," while "Nagasaki prays." This is because many of the victims in Nagasaki were Christians.

In Nagasaki, Takashi Nagai, a Christian bomb victim and doctor, has had a strong influence on perceptions there. Nagai wrote many articles and books about the bomb from his hospital bed, including, "The Bells of Nagasaki." Nagai referred to the bombing as being "divine providence."

For a long time, this perception strongly colored Nagasaki residents' views of their atomic experience. But lately, Nagasaki has started to change its resigned attitude to one of more active involvement. For example, Nagasaki high school students organized their own anti-nuclear weapons petition drive to collect 10,000 signatures from fellow high school students.

Alarmed by the 1998 nuclear experiments by India and Pakistan, a Nagasaki peace group sent "high school peace ambassadors" to the United Nations to convey Nagasaki's peace message.

The high school ambassadors took along words of peace, stressing the importance of abolishing nuclear arms. In 2001, students started a local petition and bean collecting signatures. This petition drive has now spread to the United States, New Zealand and South Korea.

In 2000, citizens groups and local governments organized the first joint Nagasaki Global Citizens' Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The third meeting takes place this autumn.

Kazuo Matsudaira, 66, is the president of the Nagasaki Shimbun [newspaper]. In 1945, he had been evacuated from his home, but he went to Hiroshima the day after the bombing. While there, he was exposed to radiation. A few days later, he returned to Nagasaki and was in the city when it was bombed.

"Nagasaki must be the last atomic bombing site on Earth," says Matsudaira. That hope is something fervently shared by every hibakusha (atomic bomb victim).