Betty Patzke Mitchell lost a brother and a sister when a bomb carried by balloon from Japan during World War II came to earth outside this little timber and ranching town.
Kanae Tanigawa’s mother was one of the thousands of Japanese schoolgirls who made the balloons from handmade paper and potato paste as part of a campaign to set fire to the forests in the western United States.
On Saturday, both women called on people to forgive the tragedies of the past, whether they were the six killed by outside Bly or the thousands killed by an atomic bomb in Hiroshima, so that people may find peace.
They spoke at a 50th anniversary ceremony to rededicate a monument marking the site where the six became the only Americans to die by enemy action during World War II in the continental United States.
“There was much grief at that time,” Mitchell said. “What good has hatred ever wrought? We all need to forgive.”
Tanigawa, a professor at Kansai Jogakuin Junior College in Kobe, Japan, read a letter from her mother, Kazuko Tanigawa, extending her apologies for the deaths caused by a balloon bomb she might have helped build.
The six were killed May 5, 1945, just months before the end of the war, by a bomb that floated on a balloon across 6,000 miles of Pacific Ocean and 200 miles of Oregon.
The Rev. Archie Mitchell was the new pastor of the Missionary Alliance Church here and had decided to take his boy’s Sunday school class on a fishing trip. His wife, Elsie, came along, as did a sister of one of the boys.
While Mitchell was parking the car, his wife and the children got out along the creek and found one of the balloons that had fallen to earth with its bombs intact. Before he joined them, an explosion erupted, killing all but the pastor.
The names of the dead are on the monument: Elsie Mitchell, 26; Jay Gifford, 13; Edward Engen, 13; Sherman Shoemaker, 11; Joan Patzke, 13; and Dick Patzke, 14.
While a piper played “Amazing Grace,” children from a local school placed boughs of cherry blossoms at the monument. The boughs were donated by schoolchildren from Fukuga Elementary School in Abu, Japan.A bugler played taps as two F-16 jet fighters from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls flew overhead.
The balloon was one of 6,000 launched from Japan in 1944 and 1945, said historian Bert Webber in his book, “Silent Siege, Japanese Attacks on North America in World War II.” In all, 369 have been found in North America from the Aleutian Islands to Mexico and as far east as Michigan, Webber said.
Two years after the explosion, Mitchell married Betty Patzke, the older sister of two of the victims. They became missionaries to Vietnam, where Mitchell was taken prisoner by Viet Cong in 1962 and never seen again.
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