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70th anniversary of Bly bombing recalled.
Picnic outing turns deadly when Japanese bomb discovered

followed by Ceremony marks 70th anniversary of WWII deaths

 by LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 5/6/15
     BLY — A beautiful day for a picnic. About 35 people gathered just up the hill from Leonard Creek for a Tuesday picnic lunch. They were there to remember a planned picnic that didn’t happen 70 years earlier. It was May 5, 1945, when Rev. Archie and Elsie Mitchell and five children from his Sunday school class stopped near Leonard Creek about 10 miles northeast of Bly on a fishingpicnic outing.

   Although the story of what happened next sometimes varies, while Archie was parking the car, Elsie and the five children found a strange object. They yelled to Archie about their discovery, but before he could shout   a warning, the object — a Japanese balloon bomb — detonated. The five youths — Jay Gifford, 13, Edward Engen, 13, Dick Patzke, 14, Joan Patzke, 13 and Sherman Shoemaker, 11 — died immediately. Elsie, 26 years old and five months pregnant, was critically wounded and died shortly afterward.        “I always tear up when I talk about Elsie,” said John Kaiser, the Fremont-Winema National Forest archaeologist, while recounting the 70-years-ago events during the lowkey gathering. “She suffered more than anyone.”

   Although the deaths were the only fatalities caused by enemy action on the continental United States during World War II, Kaiser and others noted the little-known incident remains an obscure historical footnote.  

   More recognition needed

   Dave Brillenz, the Fremont-Winema’s Lakeview-Bly District Ranger, said he hopes to increase knowledge about the incident with the help of the Bly Community Action Team.

   “We want it to be a monument to peace,” Brillenz said of the tall stone monument built at the explosion site that was dedicated in 1950.

   He said a meeting will be held Tuesday in Bly to discuss projects to improve and upgrade the site, formally named the Mitchell Recreation Area, during a National Public Lands Day work project in September and in coming years.

   Possible projects include removing the existing cyclone fence and replacing it with a stone wall, making the site ADA accessible, installing interpretive panels, developing campsites, adding log benches and building a trail to Leonard Creek.

   After years of planning, Brillenz said a long-wanted sign along Highway 140 indicating the turnoff to the Mitchell Monument is scheduled to be installed by Oregon Department of Transportation crews within a month.

   “Most of America doesn’t know this exists,” said Kaiser, who grew up in Corvallis but wasn’t aware of the incident until he moved to Lakeview with the Forest Service.  

   Family ties

   Annie Fagan Patzke, 84, who was the same age as Dick Patzke and best friends with his sister, Joan, said her grandchildren have often written reports about what is known as the Bly Bombing for school reports. She said when her grandson, Drew Patzke, wrote a report “his teacher said it didn’t happen.”

   Annie Patzke had been asked to be part of the outing by Joan Patzke. Annie’s family had temporarily moved from Bly to Tionesta, then a railroad town south of Tulelake.

   She said her parents, Elmo and Verna Fagan, had planned to allow her to join the group, but decided against doing so because they needed to stop in Klamath Falls that morning before driving out to Bly.

   “When we got to Bly they were already gone,” Patzke said, noting she and others learned of the deaths because, “There was some talking done that was not supposed to be done.”

   Military officials had early censored any information about balloon bombs and, after the Bly incident   , refused to disclose information about the deaths and the cause of the deaths.

   The censorship was imposed to prevent the Japanese, who had hoped the balloon bombs would cause forest fires and other damage and divert attention from the war effort, from knowing they had reached the U.S.

   The bombs were attached to large balloons that flew from Japan to the Pacific Northwest by the easterly blowing jet stream.

   “It was that night they told us,” remembered Patzke, who was staying with the Patzke family, of confirmation of the deaths. “It was sad. It was 9 o’clock that night. They didn’t want to tell us why.”

   She said her family and many other Bly area people visited the site the following morning. The bodies had been removed but a large amount of debris was scattered about the site. “I know there were a lot of people taking shrapnel from the trees.”

   She later married Pat Patzke, Joan and Dick’s brother. At the time of the incident, he was serving in the Army in Europe.

   “He didn’t hear about it for a while,” Annie Patzke said of her husband-to-be. “He got a sympathy card from somebody saying, ‘I’m sorry for the death in your family.’”

   Patzke, who lives in Klamath Falls and owns Casey’s Restaurant, said she learned of Tuesday’s gathering that morning from her son and daughter, who had seen a story in the Herald and News.

   “So I just finished up what I was doing at Casey’s and took off. Why? Because it was my family.”

   Patzke was pleased to learn about Forest Service plans to upgrade the monument site and enjoyed meeting friends on what proved a perfect day for a picnic.

   “What better place,” she said, smiling brightly, “to go to heaven.”


   ABOVE: Dave Brillenz, the Fremont-Winema’s Lakeview-Bly District Ranger, said he hopes to increase knowledge about the incident.


  LEFT: Annie Fagan Patzke, 84, who was the same age as Dick Patzke and best friends with his sister, Joan, attended the gathering Tuesday for the 70th anniversary of the Bly balloon bombing tragedy.




  Ceremony marks 70th anniversary of WWII deaths. Quiet luncheon marks sad affair
  By LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 5/5/15
     An event that literally rocked the community of Bly 70 years ago today will be remembered with a quiet commemorative luncheon.

   It was 70 years ago — May 5, 1945 — when a Japanese balloon bomb was accidentally detonated by a group of school children in the woods near Bly. Five children and Elsie Mitchell, the fivemonths pregnant wife of Bly minister Archie Mitchell, died from the explosion.

   The site, since named the Mitchell Monument, is the only place on the continental United States where Americans were killed as the result of enemy action during World War II.  

   Archie Mitchell, his wife, Elsie, and five children from his Sunday school class were on a Saturday morning picnic. When he stopped to park his car near Leonard Creek, the others jumped out and headed to the creek. Within minutes, the six — Elsie Mitchell, 26, Jay Gifford, 13, Edward Engen, 13, Dick Patzke, 14, Joan Patzke, 13, and Sherman Shoemaker, 11 — were dead from the explosion.

   According to one account, Archie Mitchell remembered, “As I got out of the car to bring the lunch, the others were not far away and called to me they had found something that looked like a balloon. I heard of Japanese balloons so I shouted a warning not to touch it. But just then there was a big explosion. I ran up there and they were all dead.”

   The site has since been dedicated as the Mitchell Monument. When dedicated Aug. 20, 1950 — it has a stone memorial with a bronze plaque listing the victims’ names — the site was owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. In 1998, it was donated to the Bly Ranger District of the Fremont-Winema National Forest. The killings were caused by a Japanese balloon bomb. About 9,000 hydrogen-filled balloons carrying 30,000 bombs were launched from Honshu, Japan, during a five-month period that ended in April 1945.

   The hydrogen-filled balloons, which carried the bombs, were 30 feet across and 70 feet high. The balloons   included mechanisms so they could be carried by the jet stream from Japan to North America in three to four days. The bombs included a high explosive, which designers hoped would trigger a sophisticated self-destruct mechanism.

   The Bly bomb was one of more than 300 found in 26 states and Canadian provinces. The Japanese military hoped incendiary and explosive bombs would start forest fires, cause injuries and create a national panic.

   Instead, the dangers were mostly unknown because the U.S. military imposed a total blackout on news about the bombs. The blackout was not lifted until after the Bly incident.

   The deaths and ongoing censorship stirred controversy. A day after the blast, Herald and News Managing Editor Malcolm Epley wired the War Department and demanded, “Earnestly   urge lifting restrictions enough to permit warning to thousands of people who go into the woods of this area in spring and summer and are ignorant of the bomb danger.”

   Later, in a June 1, 1945, column, Epley wrote, “The censorship was so successful that it can be marked down today as responsible for the deaths of the five children and a minister’s wife.”

   When censorship restrictions were lifted,   the Navy and War departments issued a joint statement describing the nature of balloon bombs and warning people to avoid tampering with strange objects. The statement declared, “the possible saving of even one American life through precautionary measures would   more than offset any military gain occurring to the enemy from the mere knowledge that some of his balloons actually have arrived on this side of the Pacific.”

   In 1949, Congress approved a bill providing $20,000 compensation to the families of the six people killed by the bomb.

   During monument dedication ceremonies a year later, Oregon Gov. Douglas McKay said Elsie Mitchell and the five youth were casualties of war, “just as surely as if they had been in uniform.”



   This collage of images from Mitchell Monument, and past editions of the Herald and News, is featured on an informational flier from the Fremont-Winema National Forest on the historic site.



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