Story of fatal Bly balloon
bomb featured in documentary
documentary film, “The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion,” which
focuses on the use of balloon bombs sent from Japan to do
damage in the United States during World War II, will be
featured beginning Thursday on the Discovery+ streaming
director Stu Chait said the documentary “will lift the lid
on a relatively lesser-known attack” though the use of
balloon bombs. Between 1944 and 1945, Japan launched more
than 9,000 bomb-rigged balloons across the Pacific Ocean.
Because the U.S. government prevented the news media from
reporting on the bombs, the incidents remain largely unknown
outside of Klamath County.
The only deaths
caused by balloon bombs happened in the woods outside of Bly
on May 5, 1945, when six people on a picnic were killed
after finding what turned out to be a balloon bomb. Elise
Mitchell and five children died in the explosion. The site
where the bomb went off has since become known as the
year, a film crew led by Chait was in the Klamath Basin.
Filming at the monument was done June 13 after visiting and
filming at the Klamath County Museum in Klamath Falls. The
filming was done before the Bootleg Fire burned and
devastated a large portion of the surrounding area. The
Mitchell Monument received special attention from fire crews
and was not damaged. Filmmakers did record a series of
interviews with people associated with or knowledgeable
about the bomb in Bly.
filming at the Mitchell Monument, Chait requested no
publicity about the project until it was assured the
documentary would be aired. In confirming the film’s
upcoming release, he said the Bly story is featured near the
beginning of the show. Many people were interviewed by the
film crew, but only parts of two interviews are included in
interviewed at the Mitchell Monument include Faye Murphy
Blain of Paisley, the daughter of Elaine Richardson Murphy,
a Bly area resident who had been invited to join the
Mitchells and others for the picnic. In the film, Blair
briefly talks about her mother.
filming at the Mitchell Monument, Blain said she knew little
about her mother’s connections until about 2005.
“She’d tell me
bits and pieces about it. She always thought about it in the
back of her mind. Why? Because she lost her best friend
Joannie.” Blair came to understand “it bothered her a lot …
she wouldn’t have the kids she had or the life she had” if
she had joined on the outing.
Blain said her
mother, who died in 2016, had twice been invited to go on
the picnic. The second time was the morning of the
explosion, while she was moving steers with her parents
Loring “Boss” and Thelma Richardson.
were screaming and hollering,” Murphy told Blair of her
friends, who drove past her while driving up the road to
where they discovered the balloon. When asked if she could
join the party, Murphy said her father thought about
allowing her, but decided he needed her help to move the
Leda Hunter, a
longtime Bly resident who for many years worked for the
Fremont-Winema National Forest’s Bly Ranger District and is
president of the Bly Community Action Team, said the
government’s decision to censor information about balloon
bombs “is still kind of a touchy subject. People were upset.
They’re still upset.” Hunter appears briefly in the film.
It wasn’t until
a month after the explosion that the government lifted the
ban on reporting on the existence and potential danger of
balloon bombs, which carried explosives.
many Bly area residents make visits to the monument because
“it’s still fresh in everybody’s mind. There’s a lot of
traffic up here.”
appreciation for visits by Japanese people, including some
of the women who as schoolgirls were required to make items
that they much later learned were used in constructing the
bombs. During one visit, the Japanese women brought paper
cranes and planted cherry trees at the site.
“It was kind of
gratifying for them to want to come here,” Hunter said,
terming their visit and actions as “a moment of healing.”
pastor at the Standing Stone Church in Bly the past three
years, can be heard offering a prayer at the monument at the
beginning of the film. He said he learned about the
explosion and deaths while researching a possible move to
Bly. During an interview before taking the pastor post at
the same church where Mitchell was the pastor, Pranter said
church members took him and his family to the site.
“It was like a
weight on my shoulder knowing people died here,” he said.
Although he studied history, Pratner said he “had no clue”
about the incident.
“To know that
civilians, children, were taken ...” Pratner said. “War
doesn’t need to be necessary.”
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