LAKEVIEW, Ore. --- (UP) --- A minister, still dazed by the shock of seeing his wife and five church children killed by a Japanese balloon-borne bomb a month ago [May 5], had War Department approval Friday to tell of the tragic picnic in southern Oregon.
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.
The Rev. Archie Mitchell, minister of the Christian Alliance church in Bly, Ore., was the only survivor from the church picnic. He and Mrs. Mitchell took five children in their car and picked out a shaded spot for lunch about 16 miles into the mountains.
While Mitchell drove the car around by a road, the others hiked through the woods.
"As I got out of my car to bring the lunch, the others were not far away and called to me they had found something that looked like a balloon," Mitchell related. "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."
The clergyman was so dazed from the blast and the shock of seeing everyone killed that he hardly realized two forest service employees had heard the explosion and joined him. They covered the bodies, verified that it was a big balloon which had carried the bomb to the isolated spot, and took Mitchell to Bly, the nearest town.
In addition to Mrs. Mitchell, the others killed were Sherman Shoemaker, 12, Jay Gifford, 12, Eddie Engen, 13, Joan Patzke, 11, and Dick Patzke, 13.
The forest men said it appeared that the victims had clustered around the balloon and someone curiously tugged it enough to detonate one of the bombs carried underneath. The blast plowed up the ground and virtually destroyed the balloon.
The only publicity [first] permitted on the incident was that an unidentified object had exploded, killing six people. Then it was revealed a week ago that the Japanese were releasing free balloons into the wind currents, carrying them across the Pacific, and the public was warned against touching them.
Undersecretary of War Patterson made the first mention of a balloon bomb causing six deaths and the office of censorship permitted the location and details to be given in this one case only.
Patterson said it was the only known casualty or damage from the paper balloons and added that any further damage must be kept under strict censorship to prevent the Japanese from learning how effective or ineffective they may become.
Balloons have been found over most of the western mainland. They are of gray, white, or greenish-blue paper, about 33 feet in diameter, and carry a few ball bombs suspended beneath the balloon. It was one of these bombs which had failed to explode when the balloon landed about 30 miles north of the California - Oregon border, more than 200 miles from the ocean in the Fremont National Forest.
Patterson said it had lain undiscovered for some time in the woods and warned there would be others found as snow melts and vacationers go into the mountains and back country.
The Rev. and Mrs. Mitchell lived in Ellensburg, Wash., before taking the Lake county pastorate in Bly.