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A warning

 
   

 

 

 

 

An antipersonnel bomb such as those that the balloons ferried across the Pacific.

In the spring of 1945, an Oregon reverend, Archie Mitchell, and his wife, Elsie, took some of the children from their church on a Sunday outing in the Gearheart Mountain area, sixty-some miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

As they neared their destination, Rev. Mitchell pulled over and let the children out to go exploring while he parked the car. His wife got out as well to supervise. Moments later, with Rev. Mitchell just 40 feet away, the children started shouting excitedly about something they'd found. The reverend called out for them to be careful, but it was too late.

The children had discovered a Japanese balloon bomb. The blast killed the reverend's wife, who was pregnant, and four of the children immediately. One of the girls survived the blast, but only briefly; she died before anyone could get her to a hospital. The reverend was the sole survivor.

These six deaths--memorialized today by the Mitchell Recreation Area and monument near Bly, Oregon--were the only WWII casualties on the US mainland due to enemy causes.

Are there still bombs beneath the forest floors? The last balloon found was in 1954, between Barter Island and Fort Yukon, Alaska. Nevertheless, the numbers indicate that it would still be wise to exercise caution when hiking or camping in less-traveled regions of the Pacific Northwest, where most of the balloons landed: only 300 or so balloons were ever documented as having reached North America, but close to 10,000 were launched--which leaves more than 90 percent of them unaccounted for still today.

While it's likely that most were lost at sea, it's not hard to imagine that some balloons, somewhere in the U.S. or Canada, remain to be found.

 

Postscripts

 

Banner photo: detail from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce hurricane photo.