WWII memory: Firefighter who survived 1945 Tokyo bombing sorry for lives he could not save

A snapshot of World War II, from a man who survived the March 10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo:


HOMETOWN: Tokyo's downtown Sunamachi area.

WWII EXPERIENCE: Kase, then a 19-year-old firefighter, was helpless as napalm bombs rained down from U.S. B-29 bombers, turning the neighborhood into the sea of fire. Standing on the back of a pump truck, Kase couldn't even go near the houses in roaring blaze. Mothers carrying children screamed for help. People collapsed on the ground and burned to the bones. Kase's colleague and two student volunteers were nowhere in sight. Kase was eventually plucked from a shelter, unconscious, with severe burns disabling him for life. His right-hand fingers are stuck together, frozen as if they were still holding a handlebar on the truck.

LIFE AFTER WAR: After being hospitalized repeatedly over 15 years, Kase's firefighting career was over, so he became a volunteer. He always carried long boots and a fireproof jacket in his car and listened to the fire-station radio while running a sundry shop near Tokyo. He also headed a firefighting committee as a city assemblyman.

WHY HE SHARES HIS STORY NOW: "I survived, but I couldn't help so many people. So I must keep telling my story about the tragedy on behalf of all the lives I couldn't save," he recently told a group of young firefighters at his old workplace. "That firebombing was criminal."