During the final months of World War II, Japan developed a new weapon that it hoped would create psychological terror, death, and destruction within the continental United States. While those lofty goals were not achieved, the weapon did lead to the only deaths in the continental US caused by the fighting.
The Japanese launched an estimated 9,000 Fu-Go, or fire balloons, from mainland Japan toward mainland America. The intention was for the balloons to explode upon reaching America, causing forest fires that would require the diversion of wartime resources. Of the thousands of balloons launched, only a few hundred are known to have landed in America. Most were quickly discovered, thereby averting any real damage.
In May 1945, however, one balloon bomb killed a pregnant woman, Elsie Mitchell, and five Sunday school students out for a fishing trip. The detonation caused the only World War II deaths on continental U.S. soil as a result of enemy action.
Today, a memorial 13 miles northeast of Bly, Oregon marks the location of the deadly explosion. The Mitchell Monument remembers those who lost their lives. A nearby Ponderosa Pine stands defiant, showing the bomb damage it too suffered that day. Sadly, Elsie’s husband, Archie Mitchell, who survived the explosion, would never see the dedicated memorial. By the time it was unveiled in 1950, he was working as a missionary in Asia.
As an odd side note, in 1962 Archie mysteriously disappeared in Vietnam, just as America’s involvement in that country was escalating. His whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.