Originally printed in the May 7, 2003 edition of the Illinois Valley News
During World War II, three of the Japanese attacks on mainland USA affected Oregon.
The first was June 21, 1942 when a single submarine fired shells near Ft. Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River. This caused minor damage but caused much concern with the soldiers. The second was Sept. 9, 1942 when the same submarine launched an airplane which dropped incendiary bombs on the forest near Brookings. Small fires were started but were quickly put out. The pilot of the plane was invited back to Brookings in 1962 and again in 1992 and was warmly accepted by the community.
The third attack was much more widespread and reached many different states as well as parts of Canada. Beginning in November 1944 hydrogen balloons were launched into the high altitude jet stream. Each balloon had a shrapnel bomb as well as incendiary bombs and it was hoped they would destroy buildings, kill many people, and start forest fires. Each balloon had a diameter of about 33 feet and was made of laminated mulberry bush paper. They also had bags of sand which would automatically drop if the balloon descended too low before it reached land. More than 9,000 were launched by the Japanese military and about 300 were observed or found in the United States. From Alaska to California and as far east as Wyoming the balloons were seen or the special paper was discovered on the ground. Some exploded on landing but only one injured or killed people or caused much damage.
At first it was thought that the balloons were launched from submarines or coastal landing parties because Japan was so far away. Then the U. S. Geological Survey made a careful analysis of the sand in the bags. By studying the diatoms, microscopic pieces of shells, and the mineral content, they showed that the sand had to come from the western coast of the Pacific Ocean. News reports of the balloons were curtailed in order not to create a panic in the USA and also so that the Japanese leaders would not learn of their success. By April 1945 the balloon operations were stopped because the hydrogen plants had been bombed and no success reports with the balloons had been received.
On May 5, 1945 Reverend Archie Mitchell took his wife and five young Sunday School members on a picnic. They were all from Bly, Oregon, which is between Klamath Falls and Lakeview. They traveled by car northeast of Bly and up onto Gearhart Mountain to enjoy the spring and to do a little fishing. The five kids were in ages between 12-15 and were glad for the Saturday outing. After stopping at a good spot the students went exploring. One of the kids said, “Look what I found.” Mrs. Mitchell and all the kids went to see what was partially stuck in a snowbank. As Rev. Mitchell unloaded the car he heard an explosion and found all six people instantly killed by the explosion of a balloon bomb. They were the only people killed by enemy action during the war within the continental United States. Rev. Mitchell later remarried and became a missionary in Viet Nam. In May 1962 he was taken captive by the Viet Cong and never seen again. Today there is a Forest Service Monument Marker at the site, about 10 miles from Bly. It is easily reached by car if the roadside signs are followed.