Although little known outside of southern Oregon, the six people who accidentally detonated a Japanese explosive balloon in the woods near Bly in 1945 were the only ones to die as a result of enemy action. in the United States during World War II.
Books have been written and films made about the incident, which happened on May 5, 1945, in the woods near the small, tight-knit community of Klamath County, Bly, but it remains mostly hidden in the dark. ‘story.
The events that followed are even murkier, including the reaction of Japanese women who as young girls had helped to make explosive balloons, when they learned years later that one of the bombs had killed a pregnant woman and five young boys and girls.
Tanya Lee Stone provides this perspective and more in her new book, “Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How Japan’s World War II Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together.”
“It kind of stuck with me,” Stone said of learning of the exploding balloons, deaths and subsequent events decades later. “I wanted to deepen the story.”
Stone, who oversees the professional writing program at Champlain College in Vermont, learned of the Bly balloons’ death while working on an earlier book, Courgage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First. Black Paratroopers”.
She spent several years researching the Bly incident. Stone said she was inspired after meeting Yuzuru John Takeshita, who had been incarcerated during World War II, first at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah and then at Tule Lake.
As Stone explains in his book, decades later, Takeshita was visiting Japan when he learned how Japanese schoolgirls had been enlisted to make paper balloons from one of these “girls”, Toshiko Inoue.
“Toshiko Inoue’s story sent Takeshita’s mind back to the day he and his brothers searched the skies outside their barracks at Tule Lake in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the supposed balloons”, writes Stone. “Now, 40 years later, he was learning that people he actually knew were involved and that the rumors (about the exploding balloons) were true!”
As Stone writes, once back in the United States, Takeshita wanted to know more. He did.
“He was stunned to discover how close he had been to the tragedy when it happened – just 50 miles from Tule Lake,” referring to the distance between Tule Lake and the bomb site. “As he continued reading, he came to the names and ages of the six people who had been killed… ‘I saw those names and it shook me,’ he later recalled.”
Takeshita then met and interacted with another woman who had been among the girls involved in making the paper used for the balloons. Many were shocked to learn that a balloon bomb had killed six innocent people and then contacted him for advice on sending messages to the families of the victims. As a result, in August 1987, Takeshita and her family carried 1,000 women-made paper cranes, meaning 1,000 for peace, for remembrance ceremonies at the bomb site, the Mitchell Monument.
Later, on May 6, 1995 – 50 years after the incident – Takeshita was among more than 400 people, including women who had made the paper balloons, as well as family members of those killed, who gathered at the Mitchell Monument to remember and forgive. . As Stone notes in the book, much of the healing that followed was generated by Takeshita.
Stone tells the story by weaving in rarely seen photos and stories of the Japanese girls who helped make the balloons. The book also includes stories of some of the Japanese Americans forced into assembly centers and internment camps. Also significantly, Stone writes about Takeshita’s positive and influential interactions with a Tule Lake High School teacher, Margaret Gunderson.
“Peace” summarizes how the explosive balloons were designed, how they crossed the Pacific and why the US government banned the media from reporting on the bombs and their potential danger. In addition to telling stories about the discovery and explosion of the Bly balloon bomb, in interviews with Bly residents, she describes how those deaths impacted members of the community – and how decades later Later, these deaths impacted the women who helped make the bombs.
“Peace” is a book about forgiveness and understanding and how the peoples of two wartime enemy nations came together.
“Peace,” Stone points out, was inspired by Takeshita, who instead of being bitter about his own incarceration, through his actions helped himself and others to learn that “peace is a reaction in chain”.
Contact freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.