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Cora Conner, 87, witness to history, dies

Played a role in Mitchell-Japanese bombing tragedy

by Lee Juillerat, Herald and News 12/22/16

Cora Conner, a longtime Klamath Basin resident, died Wednesday at her Klamath Falls home. She was 87.

An active member of the Klamath County Historical Society, Conner was involved in one of the region’s most significant historical events.

At age 16, she was on duty at the Bly telephone office on May 5, 1945, when it was learned six people — a minister’s pregnant wife and five young teenagers — were killed when they accidentally detonated a Japanese balloon bomb. The deaths were the only ones caused by enemy action in the United States during World War II.


Conner was forbidden to make any comment as rumors and news about the deaths filtered through town.

Information blackout

In “Service and Sacrifice,” the 2003 Shaw Historical Library Journal, Conner told about the incident and government-imposed information blackout.

“Everyone was angry,” Conner remembered of the frustration that resulted from the censorship. “They knew something had happened to the kids.” According to Conner, she suffered from nightmares for years after the incident.

In the 2016 Shaw Journal, “From Fremont to Kingsley: The Military in the Land of the Lakes,” Conner said she had declined an offer to join the group for the planned picnic because of her work commitment.

“Later that morning a Forest Service ranger stopped at the (telephone) office and said there had been a fatality. She learned her friends and others had been killed by a bomb explosion. ‘He said to keep really quiet, and keep the lines open. They told me again I couldn’t tell anybody and to stay there and not let anyone make phone calls,’ Conner remembered. They put a zipper on my mouth that day. I couldn’t talk to anyone, not even my Mom, and when I did, it was months later.”

Even after the deaths became public, “I just could not talk about it. I still don’t like to talk about it.”

Angry neighbors

According to the article, angry townspeople gathered in protest. She said it took decades before she and some people resumed cautious friendships. But, she said, “My nightmares are basically all gone,” although, “I don’t know if I’ll ever outgrow my big upset.”

Over the years, Conner was frequently asked to tell her story. In recent decades she had been a fixture at events remembering the event, including many at the place where the deaths occurred, The Mitchell Monument Historical Site 13 miles northeast of Bly. A stone monument with a brass plaque listing the names of the victims, most who were Conner’s friends, was dedicated in 1950.

Todd Kepple, Klamath County Museums manager, regards Conner as “an avid student of history and seeker of adventure” and as “a living connection to the Japanese balloon bomb incident.”

Conner is survived by three children, Kathy Thomas, Paul Conner and Tim Conner. She was preceded in death by her husband, P. Norman Conner.

No services are currently planned.



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