The sole American to die on American territory during World War II was a result of enemy action due to a Japanese war balloon. They were killed by a Japanese balloon bomb, called "Fu-Go."
The Japanese military launched thousands of bombs across the Pacific in 1944 in an effort to cause panic in the United States. The explosives were carried by hydrogen-filled balloons. The bombs were primarily intended to be burning weapons. The Pacific Northwest's forests were the intended target. It was believed that the balloon bombs would burn and detonate because they were made of paper, leaving no trace. Japanese records state that it was believed that the balloon bombs' stealthiness would frighten and disturb the public while the fires would divert resources from the troops.
How does a balloon bomb get made?
The Fu-Go balloons were mostly constructed of paper and were 70 feet by 33 feet in size. They were made to fly at 30,000 feet in hydrogen-inflated form as the prevailing winds pushed them eastward toward the United States. A balloon needed three to four days to go across the Pacific. When a pressure sensor detected that the balloon had dipped below 30,000 feet, the sandbags on board would release. The hydrogen heated by the sun caused the balloons to rise, and when the hydrogen cooled at night, the balloons descended once more. The balloon was meant to self-destruct after all the sandbags were released. One was a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel device, while the other two were fire-starting bombs. Each balloon carried a total of three explosives that were tethered to the shroud and hanging from it.
Japan launched about 9,300 Fu-Go balloons between November 1944 and April 1945, according to OregonEncyclopedia.org. Estimated 900 balloons made it to the United States.
The majority of the balloons descended in isolated locations, and the rain that is so characteristic of the Pacific Northwest swiftly put out the forest fires that some of the balloons started.
The balloons have reportedly been observed in:
The Aleutian Islands
Although some of the balloons crashed, exploded, and burnt, nobody was hurt. When some of the balloon bombs hit and the sandbags remained attached, they did not all explode, Americans learned where the balloon bombs came from. The sand was determined to be from the Pacific Ocean's edge and was black with minute amounts of seashells, which led the Americans to believe the gadgets originated in Japan.
The U.S. Office of Censorship asked the media to refrain from reporting about the balloon bombs in an effort to avoid a panic and, more crucially, to prevent the Japanese from realizing that the bombs had reached America. The press agreed.
Accidents in Oregon
One of the balloons was discovered on May 5, 1945, by Sunday school students in south central Oregon.
A trip into the woods was taken by the minister Archie Mitchell, his expectant wife Elsie, and students from Mitchell's Sunday school class. According to Mitchell, the others called to him while he was getting lunch from the car and said they had discovered what appeared to be a big balloon. Despite Mitchell's warning, it was already too late. His 26-year-old wife, Dick Patzke, 14, Jay Gifford, 13, Edward Engen, 13, Joan Patzke, 13, and Sherman Shoemaker, 11, were all killed when the bomb exploded.
The Klamath Falls Herald and News published an article about the explosion and the fatalities, but it gave no additional information about the explosion other than to say that it was of unknown cause. No reference was made to a Japanese balloon bomb. The specifics wouldn't be made public until after the conflict.
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