Dec. 8, 2009 Prairie Post column
The surprise attack by Japan on the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 marked the beginning of the American participation in World War II.
But it wasn’t until February of 1945 that the Japanese actually attacked North Dakota. In fact they came close to bombing Ashley, N.D., not that many people there even noticed.
According to the book “The Great Plains during World War II” by R. Douglas Hurt Japan turned to sending explosive laden balloons towards North America late in the war. By this point the Allied island hopping campaign in the Pacific had put American forces close enough to the Japanese Islands for bomber missions. Without a way to reach the United States with planes or ships the Japanese tried to retaliate with balloon bombs.
Between November 1944 and April 1945 Japan launched more than 9,000 balloons. About 300 were actually observed in the United States in Canada although it is estimated about 900 reached the continent. Some of the bombs carried incendiary devices, others carried anti-personnel bombs. None carried the bacterial agents that were rumored at the time here in the United States.
And even though they were considered ineffective as a weapon of war they did kill six Americans. On May 5, 1945, a church youth group in Oregon encountered a balloon bomb while on a picnic. The explosion killed five children and one adult, the only American mainland casualties of World War II.
If you are an old timer and have no recollection of the Japanese attack on Ashley don’t feel bad. Until the deaths in Oregon the Office of Censorship requested no mention in the press of the balloon bombs. The balloon in Ashley was quietly picked up by an FBI agent and no one likely made mention of it. After all, back in those days we cooperated with our government.
But here is something to think about. There are still about 600 of these balloon bombs unaccounted for. The last one discovered was in 1978 in Oregon. Look for a ballast ring, barometer and a bomb.
You might want to be a little careful; they say the Japanese were pretty good at building a bomb that lasts.
And on another topic, I’d like to take this opportunity to announce Volume 2 of the Great Stories of the Prairie Post book series. The book contains about 50 stories that have appeared here in the Prairie Post in the past couple of years. I’ve also added pictures to many of the stories to make them a little more interesting.
Great Stories of the Prairie Post, Vol. 2, is available at the Jamestown Sun and at Great Stories Book Shoppe. As a shameless promotional plug by the author I will say they make great Christmas gifts.