No evidence quote about photo of child in Nagasaki is true

23 March 2022
What was claimed

A famous photo from the aftermath of bombing in Japan in 1945 was taken by a soldier who spotted a child carrying his dead sibling and was told “he’s not heavy, he’s my brother”.

Our verdict

The picture was taken by a US Marine on assignment to photograph the aftermath of bombings in Japan in 1945, but there’s no evidence the specific interaction described actually happened.

A number of posts on Facebookto recount the story behind a famous photograph showing a boy carrying his dead brother on his back, in the wake of the bombing of Nagasaki in in 1945. 

One post states: “In Japan, during the war, this boy was carrying his dead brother on his back to bury him. A soldier noticed him and asked him to throw this dead child so that he would not get tired.

“He replied: ’He's not heavy, he's my brother!’

“The soldier understood and broke down in tears. Since then, this image has become a symbol of unity in Japan. Let this be our motto: ‘He's not heavy. He's my brother... She's my sister.’"

The picture was taken by US Marine Corps photographer Joe O’Donnell in Japan in September 1945, who was assigned to take pictures of the aftermath of the bombing of Japanese cities including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another version of the Facebook post contains a similar story but names Mr O’Donnell as speaking to the child, rather than a soldier. 

However, there is no evidence that the interaction described in the Facebook posts ever took place. Full Fact could find no similar account from a reputable source. 

The picture bears a resemblance to a logo used by the US youth charity Boys Town in the 1940s and throughout the rest of the 20th Century. According to the charity’s website, the logo was inspired by an image in a magazine called the Louis Allis Messenger, which featured the caption: “He ain't heavy, Mister he's m' brother!"

According to Boys Town, this phrase was also heard decades earlier in 1918 at a home for children where a young resident who wore leg braces was carried up and down the stairs by other children.

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