When Japan Bombed Texas

In the early spring of 1945, Japan bombed the state of Texas. Well, they tried and actually came close to succeeding. There were no causalities and the whole thing might never have been known if it had not been reported by a group of teenagers from the little town of Desdemona.

On the afternoon of March 23, C.M. Guthery, fourteen, was riding the bus home from Desdemona Junior High when he noticed what looked like a large basketball descending from the sky. When he got off the bus at his stop on the next block, he started following the "basketball" as it continued to fall. As it floated closer to the ground, young Guthery had to begin jogging to keep up with it. A little over a mile later, it landed in a vacant field near some houses.

A group of kids from the neighborhood soon joined Guthery in examining what they could tell was a large balloon. The fabric was very brittle and a faded red rising sun symbol could be seen near the top. It was gray in color and smelled bad, kind of like creosote, so a few of the children wouldn't touch it, but others did. They began pulling it apart and carried away some ropes and pieces of the fabric.

Japanese balloon bomb in the
air (file photo)
Guthery walked back home and told his parents what he had found as did several of the other young teenagers. Government authorities were called by the parents. Early the next morning, military men showed up in town to visit the site where the remains of the balloon remained. They then began canvassing houses and gathered up the missing pieces taken as souvenirs. 

While the officials were busy in Desdemona, Ivan Miller, a cowboy on the Barney Davis Ranch in the nearby town of Woodson, was working a fence line when he discovered a large, collapsed balloon. This balloon also had a large rising sun painted near the top as well as several smaller rising suns around the bottom. Before the military men finished their work in Desdemona, residents in Woodson trekked out to the 2nd landing site and carried off pieces of the balloon as souvenirs. The officials had to repeat their process again, securing the site and then going around town collecting all the missing pieces.

In both cases, the civilians who found the balloons and took away pieces of them had no idea they had found anything other than a couple of big balloons. It wasn't until later they discovered how lucky they were.

On May 5, 1945, just six weeks later, a group of picnickers in southern Oregon were not so lucky. That morning, Archie Mitchell, the reverend for the Christian Alliance Church, drove to the mountains near Bly with his pregnant wife and five young parishioners from his church. About 1/2 mile from the picnic area on Gearhart Mountain, he dropped off his wife and the kids, all between the ages of 13 - 15, so they could have an adventure hiking the trail for the rest of the way.

(Historical document)
After arriving at the picnic site, Reverend Mitchell was unloading the food from the car when he heard his wife calling to him a short way into the surrounding woods. They said they had found something that looked like a large balloon and wanted him to come take a look at it. He had heard on the news warnings regarding Japanese balloons landing in the area so as he began jogging toward the group he shouted for them to get away from it. Unfortunately, his warning came several seconds too late. He had only ran a couple of feet when he heard a large explosion and debris began raining down. Evidently, one of the children had tugged on a rope hanging from the balloon and the bomb exploded. When the Reverend recovered his senses and made his way to the site of the explosion, he found his wife and all five of the children dead. The Oregon picnickers were the only Americans killed by enemy action inside the continental United States during World War II.

Between November, 1944 and April, 1945 Japan launched nine thousand balloons which they hoped would be transported to mainland America by the atmospheric winds. Attached to each balloon was a 33-pound antipersonnel explosive and two incendiary munitions. Their goal was to create a series of forest fires and to kill civilians in order to create havoc, divert personnel, dampen American morale and disrupt the war effort. Approximately 1,000 actually reached America, Canada and Mexico, but most proved to be carrying dud bombs or, like the two found in Desdemona and Woodson, the explosive cargo had fallen harmlessly into the ocean before making landfall. It may never be known for sure, however, how many actually caused damage as the military placed a blackout ban on any news of the balloon bombs in order to deprive Japan from tracking their success.

Confirmed landings and explosion sites
Amazingly, a number of these balloon bombs continued to be found for years after the war. Several were found in Hawaii and some made it as far east on the mainland as Omaha, Grand Rapids, Chicago and Detroit. One, with its explosives still attached, was found partially buried outside Edmonton, Alberta in 1953. In 1955, another one was found in Alaska. One was found and had to be destroyed in northern Mexico in 1964. In 1978, a badly deteriorated balloon without its munitions was found in a remote forest area in Oregon. The latest one found was discovered by two forestry workers in 2014 in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia. The balloon material had disintegrated but metal pieces of the apparatus was visible and the bomb it had carried was partially buried in the dirt. It had been laying undiscovered in that spot for 70 years. Considered too dangerous to remove, the military placed C-4 on the ground around it and blew it, they reported, "to smithereens."

Even today, over 70 years later, not many know about Japan's balloon bomb attack, but World War II effected every home, town and person in America, even a few young, very lucky teenagers living far from any battlefield in a small country town like Desdemona, Texas.