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A Mother's Premonition

Story ID:7164
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Dillon Montana USA
Year:2011
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A memory from my past...

A Mothers Premonition…
The Japanese Balloon Bomb Incident on Gearhart Mountain
By Chuck Dishno

I was born in Bly, Oregon on August 4, 1934 and lived there until I graduated from High School. Bly was a town of about 750 hard working loggers and saw mill workers.

My life consisted of doing all the fun things kids did in a small logging town during the late 30’s and early 40’s.

In August of 1940, my house burned to the ground and we moved into the school home-ec room until our house re-built by the men of the town in their spare time. Such was life in a small community.

On December 7, 1941 the United States went to war with Japan and life began to change.

My two half-brothers,Frank and Bud, both enlisted in the Army Air Force and left home. Seeing them board a train in Klamath Falls was a most devastating thing for me, as I just knew I would never see them again. As it turned out they never left the States and returned just fine.

My brother, Bud, enlisted with a school friend, Jack Patzke, who wasn’t so fortunate. He was a gunner on a B-17 when his plane was shot down over Germany and was killed. I only mention this because he was a brother to two of the Patzke children killed by a Japanese Balloon Bomb. In just a few short months, the Patzke family had lost three children to the war.

For those of you who have never heard of these Balloon Bombs, they were sent over from Japan in 1944 and 45 on the newly discovered jet stream. It is estimated that several thousand were sent with the intention of burning the forests on the West Coast. They all had incendiary bombs and at least one anti-personnel bomb attached. We all knew about the Balloon Bombs and were told to watch out for them flying over

Since birth, I attended and was baptized in the Methodist Church that was next door to my house but due to the small attendance and the distance the preacher had to drive each Sunday, the church closed it’s doors.

This left only one church in town, the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church. Most of the Methodists attended Church and Sunday school there when the Methodist Church closed.

In April, 1945 the C&MA church got a new minister, Archie Mitchell and his new bride Elsye, who was 5 months pregnant.. They had been married less than a year and had moved there from Port Angels, Washington. The Mitchells had only been in Bly a few weeks and Archie wanted to take his Sunday School Class on a fishing/picnic.

It was Saturday, May 5th 1945 when Archie and his wife took 5 children ages 11 to 15 years to a small stream on Gearhart Mountain about 12 miles from Bly.

There were four boys and one girl who was a sister of the oldest boy. I was 11 years old and a member of that Sunday school class. I was invited to go on the outing, but for some reason my Mom wouldn’t let me go with them.
Mom never could explain what had told her not to let me attend.

After arriving at the creek, Archie let the kids and his wife out of the car and went to park it off the road.

They proceeded toward the creek and came upon a large balloon partially draped over a tree with something lying on the ground. It is thought that someone either kicked or touched it and it went off killing all six people. Archie was the only one to survive as he was a short distance away and was blocked from the explosion by some trees.

In Bly, we knew very little of what happened up on Gearhart Mountain as the 2nd World War was still going on and everything was hushed up. We only knew that something tragic had happened and 5 of our schoolmates were killed. I don’t remember going to the funeral but I’m sure I did. I do remember three of the boys were buried in their Boy Scout uniforms so I must have been there. As you might imagine, it was a very traumatic time for me. In a flash I had lost 5 of my best friends.

This was the only place on the Continental United States that any deaths resulted from enemy action during World War II.

Two of the boys were close friends of mine. Dick Patzke, and Sherman Shoemaker. Dick and I used to go swimming on the Sprague River in the summer. He also gave me a cat that I called Big Kitty. I wrote a story about this cat titled “Big Kitty and the Cowboy”. You can find this story on Our Echo.. Sherman was my age and we had many good times together playing cowboys and Indians.

About every year or so, Roz and I go back to Bly for a school reunion. Each time I try to take time out to visit the graves of three of the children. They are buried in a cemetery in Klamath Falls along with brother Jack who was returned after the war.
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Archie Mitchell came back to preach at the C&MA church for many years. He eventually married Joanne Patzke the older sister of Dick, Joan and Jack.

A few years after they were married they answered the call to become missionaries and went to French Indo-China, now Vietnam. After they had been there a few years, they were taken captive. A short time later Joanne was released but they kept Archie and he was never heard from again. No one seems to know what happened to him to this day. What a tragic life for him.

We attended the 50th anniversary of the Balloon Bomb incident on May 5, 1995 on Gearhart Mountain. Joanne was there and handled the situation very well. She now lives in North Carolina.

I am a retired printer living in Dillon, Montana with my beautiful Chinese wife, Rosalind and our two neurotic cats, Amy & Eddie. I have written many stories of my life and growing up in the unique town of Bly, Oregon during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Many are posted on Our Echo..
Chuck Dishno
Dillon, Montana

More information can be found about the Japanese Balloon Bombs on the internet.