Six Continental US Casualties During WWII

During WWII the Japanese developed a highly secretive weapon to strike at the heart of the North American continent. The weapons would travel nearly 4,500 miles and were mostly fueled by the jet stream. You can see them here.

The paper balloons were made by Japanese high school girls. It is estimated that nearly 1,000 balloon bombs reached the North American shores. Six Americans were killed in Bly, Oregon by one of them. Those six Americans would remain the only casualties during WWII on continental American soil.

Pastor Archie Mitchell and his wife, Elsye, had taken five children from their Sunday School Class on a fishing trip near Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon. It was May 5, 1945 and Pastor Mitchell’s wife was about five-months pregnant at the time and got out of the car with the children while Pastor Mitchell found a place to park the vehicle. Elyse and the children found one of the unexploded Japanese balloon bombs and picked it up to investigate. It would be a deadly mistake for the pregnant Elyse, along with all of the children.

The fragmentation bomb, carried across the ocean in a paper balloon filled with hydrogen that killed Elyse and the children was one of over a 9,000 bombs that the Japanese launched across the Pacific attached to balloons. Although the FBI and the US military were aware of the balloon bombs, the information was kept confidential from the public because the U.S. War Department didn’t want the Japanese to know the balloons were reaching the continent intact.

The Military Geology Unit (MGU) of the U.S. Geological Survey identified the sand inside of the balloon ballasts and quickly determined that the balloon bombs were being produced on the coastal regions of Japan. The plants were destroyed by American B-29 bombers based in the Mariana Islands in the summer of 1945.

In 2008, a documentary film called, On Paper Wings,was directed by Ilana Sol that depicts the story of the Japanese women who produced the bombs and the Japanese-American man who brought them together with the families of those killed in Oregon almost forty years after the War ended. The Japanese women folded a thousand origami paper cranes to present to the families of those killed in Oregon that dreadful day.

The Mitchell Monument was erected at the Mitchell Recreation Area in the Fremont National Forest and lists the names of the victims of the May 5, 1945 balloon-bomb explosion. Those killed were Elyse Mitchell, 26, Jay Gifford, 13, Edward Engen, 13, Dick Patzke, 14, Joan Patzke, 13, and Sherman Shoemaker, 11.


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