I suppose a true World War II history buff might know about some of the strange war stories there are out there, and I rather thought I was becoming a World War II history buff, but I had never heard of the Japanese Balloon Bombs. I can’t imagine how a nation could send a random bomb over another nation, not knowing where it will land, or who it will kill…but then, the evil we have seen in the 21st century has proven to be very much the same. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun. Where evil exists, horrible things happen. Such was the case with the Japanese Balloon Bombs. The Japanese were an evil nation at that time, and they didn’t care who they hurt. in 1945, a Japanese Balloon Bomb landed in rural Oregon, ad killed six people . As it turns out, these were the only World War II combat casualties within the continental 48 states. Apparently, the accuracy of the balloon bombs left something to be desired…thankfully.
The idea of a balloon bomb was to send in a bomb that was silent. The problem is that balloons are hard to control. They go with the flow of the wind currents, so you don’t know where they will land. Then again, the Japanese were at war with the world, so they really didn’t care where the balloons would land. The six people who were killed by the Fu-Go or fire-balloon bomb, as they were called, were a Sunday School teacher Elyse Mitchell (and her unborn child), her 13 and 14 year old students, Jay Gifford, Edward Engen, Sherman Shoemaker, Dick Patzke, all of whom were killed instantly, when the bomb exploded. Dick Patzke’s sister, Joan was severely burned, and died moments later. The group had stopped for a moment, because Elyse Mitchell was feeling ill, and while her husband, Reverend Archie Mitchell talked with construction workers in the area, the six victims went to investigate a balloon they saw. It would prove to be a fatal mistake. The group had been going on a Saturday afternoon picnic near Klamath Falls, Oregon. They had only walked about 100 yards from the car. One of the road-crew workers, Richard Barnhouse, said “There was a terrible explosion. Twigs flew through the air, pine needles began to fall, dead branches and dust, and dead logs went up.”
Made of rubberized silk or paper, each balloon was about 33 feet in diameter. Barometer-operated valves released hydrogen if the balloon gained too much altitude or dropped sandbags if it flew too low. The balloons were filled with 19,000 cubic feet of hydrogen and the jet stream drew them eastward. They were designed to travel across the Pacific to North America, where they would drop incendiary devices or anti-personnel explosives. I would think the hydrogen alone would make a horrible bomb, but attached to the balloon was the actual bomb. The Japanese released an estimated 9,000 fire balloons during the last months of World War II. At least 342 reached the United States, with some drifting as far as Nebraska. Some were shot down. Some caused minor damage when they landed, but no injuries. One hit a power line and blacked out the nuclear-weapons plant at Hanford, Washington. But the only known casualties from the 9,000 balloons…and the only combat deaths from any cause on the U S mainland were the five kids and their Sunday school teacher going to a picnic. What a valiant victory for the Japanese that was.
My dad always liked exploring. I guess I get that trait from him, because I do too. He loved to see what was around the next corner, or over the next mountain. He loved to travel, and wanted to share that love with his family. As a result of his need to wander some, we enjoyed a rich and unique view of the country we live in. Dad’s curiosity and imagination made every vacation an adventure. When we were in grade school, and the teacher said to write a story telling about our summer vacation, we had plenty to say. We had been so many places. It was something we took for granted really. It never occurred to us that our friends didn’t go places too. Looking back now, I can see just how blessed we were.
I have been told that my dad’s family all liked to wander a bit. His dad worked on the railroad. Like many people who work on the railroad, part of the draw is seeing the country. I can understand that, because that is a part of me too. I love to see new places, especially on foot. Hiking in the back country where you can be walking along in the trees one minute and then suddenly there is a river with a beautiful waterfall that most people don’t even know exists…well, the feeling is exhilarating.
Dad loved to follow historical markers and trails. It was something that filled the explorer need in him. I think Dad was a bit of a history buff, as am I. It is very cool to research the past and learn about things that happened so long ago, and yet not so long ago. When you look back in time, is a hundred years really that long? It’s basically one lifetime. To see how people lived just a hundred years ago. So many things change in a hundred years. It makes you realize what you have and how very blessed you are.
This is the kind of legacy my dad passed on to his kids. He had an interest in the outdoors and the history of our great country. These were things we got to learn about. As kids we may not have had a real appreciation of the history, but those lessons he taught us have never gone away, and when we were older, there was an appreciation that grew out of the seeds he planted. The grew into a love of history, at least they did for me, and now when I read about the past, I can picture some of the places the events took place, because I have been there, and almost feel like I’m an explorer too.