Monday, February 23, 2009


Fugo and My Fallible Memory


Time to correct the record – that is, my record.

In the latest issue of Saucer Smear (Feb. 15th, 2009) there’s an excerpt from a snail mail letter I wrote to writer-editor Jim Moseley. I was commenting on a previous issue:

“On page 3 you mentioned John Keel’s theory re: the Roswell crash, that what fell was a WW II era Japanese fire balloon (fugo). If I remember correctly someone found one and it went off, killing him. The U.S. government was keeping the fugo problem out of the press to stave off panic. Of course, if the public knew about the balloons, that one guy who died would’ve avoided it all costs if he knew the danger. But that’s how our government works: Prevent panic but put unsuspecting citizens in danger with the cover-up.”

Jim did a good job excerpting my letter. There’s no problem with him misquoting me or taking what I wrote out of context. The problem is with my memory and my lack of fact checking.

There was indeed an incident during World War II involving a lethal detonation from a fugo bomb-balloon that had drifted into the United States from Japan. A Google search revealed six people were killed, not one person: a woman and five children. The website, http://www.stelzriede.com discusses the incident and reproduces the text from World War II era newspaper articles about the fugo threat.

An article dated June 1st, 1945 -- headlined “Saw Wife and Five Children Killed by Jap Balloon Bomb” (I know, “Jap” is an offensive term but that’s the headline) –- explained that a minister was the only survivor during a church picnic when a fugo exploded in Southern Oregon back on May 5th.

In the lede it’s mentioned the minister was given permission by the War Department to talk publicly about the incident. The article stated: “The six deaths are the only known fatalities on the United States mainland from enemy attack. Full details were released after a month of secrecy as national officials expanded their warning program against Japanese balloons in western states.”

Details of the tragedy were given. While the minister was by his car, his wife and the five church children were in the woods. They shouted to him that they had found something like a balloon.

The minister, Rev. Archie Mitchell, was quoted: "I had 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."

So it appears that the government had made some limited warnings about the fugo balloons since Mitchell knew about the danger. Or that the story got out anyway. Whatever the case, officials decided to expand their warning program after the tragic picnic incident. Schools would be closed for the summer; more kids would be outdoors who might stumble upon one of the balloons.

This leads into the topic of secrecy and the public’s right to know. A topic for another fugo-related post.

2 comments:

X. Dell said...

When you contrast that kind of warning compared with all the warnings we get nowadays (incessant, alarmist, sensationalized, and usually trivial), then one might see merit in this type or form of public disclosure--especially if these balloons had no further victims.

Ray said...

X. Dell:

Hey, Dubya needed that spectre of terrorism to keep us in line. Remember when he stated Goal #1 was to capture Bin Laden? So what happened? Probably Bin Laden was beyond reach. At the same time maybe Dubya wasn't that disappointed that Bin Laden remained at large, a lurking threat.

A while ago ex-Veep Cheney was claiming another great terrorist attack will happen in the US. Scare us some more, Darth Vader.

It's like using the term "war" to describe actions taken against various problems: War On Drugs, War On Poverty, War On Terrorism. Never-ending "wars," ain't they?

From what I've read it seems removing the blanket of secrecy over fugo did save lives.

Ray