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Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 05:05 PM

Balloon in hangar: A caption reads: "Overall photograph of Japanese balloon inflated with apparatus properly suspended." (Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

During World War II, something happened that nobody ever talks about. This is a tale of mysterious balloons, cowboy sheriffs, and young children caught up in the winds of war. And silence, the terror of silence.

Reporters Peter Lang-Stanton and Nick Farago tell us the story of a seemingly ridiculous, almost whimsical series of attacks on the US between November of 1944 and May of 1945. With the help of writer Ross Coen, geologist Elisa Bergslien, and professor Mike Sweeney, we uncover a national secret that led to tragedy in a sleepy logging town in south central Oregon.


Special thanks to Annie Patzke, Leda and Wayne Hunter, and Ilana Sol. Special thanks also for the use of their music to Jeff TaylorDavid Wingo for the use of "Opening" and "Doghouse" - from the Take Shelter soundtrack, Justin Walter's "Mind Shapes" from his album Lullabies and Nightmares, and Michael Manning for the use of "Save"


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Comments [89]

Irwin Buchholz from Edmonds, WA

My little and I am fortunate to be here today. In 1945 I was 11 years old and my brother was 8. We were playing on the frozen lake (long Lake , Illinois)in probably Feb or early March. We came across a bomb shaped device in the snow I thought it was a practice bomb possibly dropped from one of the many training aircraft from the Glenview (Illinois) Naval training station. Curious I was able to unscrew to nose of the device which contained powder (probably magnesium). I made a trail of the powder to a safe area behind a wall of ice,and struck a match to the powder and a very loud blast followed. We did not want to be blamed so we hid under a bridge when the police came by. No one new the exact location of the blast.and we never spoke of it to anyone until the 1970s. when I read of the publication by Robert Mikesh titled Japan's World WarII Balloon Bomb Attacks on North America Published by Smithsonian Institution Press Number 9. A very complete history of these events and pictures and diagrams of the construction of these weapons. No one knows except my brother and me how lucky we are to be still alive! A wonderful program keep up the fine work.

Dec. 11 2015 01:30 PM
Bob from San Diego

To add to the tragedy is that in 1962, years after Archie Mitchell lost his wife and unborn child and witnessed the deaths of the other children from church, he was taken captive by the Viet-Cong while serving as a missionary in Indo-China. He and two others who were seized have never been found and are listed among the 17 missing American civilians during the Vietnam war. He was serving there with his second wife and their four children but they were not taken at that time. Even more remarkably, they were taken captive in 1975 but released later.

I am so glad radiolab covered this first part of the tragedy. It is such a shame that the tragedy that befell this family has not been more widely recognized and honored in some way by the US government.

Oct. 16 2015 01:56 PM
Dredre from colorado

I remember my 7th grade science teacher telling us about the balloons and we had watched a video about them. It was part of our geology segment and what types of rocks come from where and how we are able to tell where people or objects have been due to what type of particles or dirt and sand was trapped or carried over with them.

Oct. 06 2015 01:17 AM
Marty from Austin TX

Please read Liam Callanan's "The Cloud Atlas" which is NOT the basis of that questionable movie, but a beautiful story and those balloon attacks from Japan are a big part of the book, especially the fact that almost no one has ever heard of them! One of my favorite books too!

Sep. 30 2015 08:53 PM
THF from Bend, OR, 97703

Fascinating story! I hadn't heard of the accidental detonation here in Oregon. There are a lot of strange and damning reports I've heard about the treatment of the Japanese around Tulelake. My grandparents had German POW's working on their farm and even bought the Japanese internment houses after the war! Pretty crazy information people have about that time period.

Jul. 21 2015 02:47 PM
Simon N from Australia

A beautiful tribute to a fine & inspiring man. As always, well done, & thank you again for bringing Oliver Sacks into our lives.

On the day I listened to this piece, I saw an indigo sky for the first time ever. My ten year old confirmed that what we were seeing wasn't blue, wasn't purple - it was indeed indigo.

Jun. 01 2015 12:08 AM
Jason from Alberta

Reminded me of this story of a crazy Allied engineering scheme to build an aircraft carrier out of wood pulp and ice...

May. 18 2015 02:09 PM
Jeff Heinaman from New Jersey

Thank you so much for great stories like this one which I enjoyed listening to back in March and seeing a picture of a "Fu-Go" on your website. Just today, I glanced at the back cover of our denominational AllianceLife monthly magazine and instantly recognized the Fu-Go!

The article mentions the paper cranes Jeremy referenced above as well as how the surviving husband Archie was later captured by the Viet Cong as a missionary.

One final postscript of healing and reconciliation is added when in 1995 six cherry trees shipped from Japan were planted in Bly to honor each of those killed.

May. 11 2015 03:34 PM
Lulu from Los Angeles

For some reason, it brought me to tears to hear this elderly woman still remembering the scene of the townspeople throwing rocks at the Japanese-American woman and her child. People always say that we should realize that people are a product of their times and thus we shouldn't expect them to have the same 'moral conscience' for certain things was we do today. And sometimes I'd agree with that; there is grace for history, and there are things we accept as normal today that future generations will be appalled at. But it's stories like these that remind me that this often isn't true. A 16-year-old girl who had been traumatized by an event that killed family friends--and could have killed her and her sister--still knew how cruel it was to make scapegoats out of innocent Americans simply for their ethnicity and so many decades later still feels like that shameful scene traumatized her more. Somehow this comforted me a great deal, especially having many family friends who suffered during and after the Japanese-American internment that President Roosevelt signed off on. And now that I think of it, most Americans didn't even know about that homegrown injustice until the past decade or two. Probably many still don't.

May. 11 2015 12:01 AM

What does Fu-Go mean? Is it Japanese?

Apr. 28 2015 10:50 PM
ahua luo

look that, japanese meteorologists invented balloon right? then he have been imprison for 7 year i don't know is that illegal or not but it is war, it is scheme you can not promise that you wouldn't kill any innocent civilian. same with american, heard that radio america proudly strike japanese main land susessfuly ,yea it's did International Military Tribunal for the Far East counted that how many innocent lifes killed by american aircaft? how many life been taken Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how many life killed in middle east?

Apr. 28 2015 11:44 AM
Flipmantis from Ny

The story told about the Japanese American mother and child and the feeling of helplessness and guilt that the young girl felt reminds me of something that just happened in pine bush New York recently. In celebration of international language day the school had a young girl recite the national anthem in Arabic. The community whipped themselves into a patriotic frenzy which culminated with death threats directed at the young girl. The school had to issue an official apology in order to avoid further tragedy. While we do not fling rocks at arabic children our fear and anger still drives a national zeitgeist of hate and exclusion. I fear that we are right around the corner from rounding up a section of our population for national security and even more I fear that such a decision would be applauded by far too many Americans.

Apr. 24 2015 09:50 AM
Mike from New Orleans

This story has been in the public domain for at least 20 or 30 years. It still, even today, is interesting.

Apr. 19 2015 09:33 PM
Ritch from Hawaii

I listened back and it doesn't say the Japanese woman & child were killed; it says the town threw rocks at them when they climbed out of the truck begging for water.

Apr. 18 2015 06:02 PM
Ritch Stewart from North Shore, Hawai'i

It's not that secret. I'd heard (but I'm a history nut). From what I learned, the Japanese were trying to set the vast forests on fire but it was a wet season in the west and they weren't able to accomplish it.

It's the only thing missing from this story.

Also, the govt didn't want the public worrying about live bombs being out there. I'm sure the Forest Service worried about their funding if it was found out that you could possibly get blown up while visiting Yosemite.

That's what I heard

Apr. 18 2015 05:18 PM
McKenzie Male

this is crazy! the fact that bombs were floating on balloons and nobody talks about it. even though these were seemingly insignificant facts about the war, i believe they should still be shared.

Apr. 14 2015 11:30 PM
Jonathan from United States

So did the lsat Fu-Go bomb found in Oregon detonate? Was it still a live bomb at that point? I would like to know.

Apr. 14 2015 07:55 PM
Benjamin from Mass.

Is it coincidence that pilots called UFOs "foo"? As in" Fu-Go" and is this why the government policy on such topics is denial and secrecy?

Apr. 14 2015 01:35 AM
Archimbold S. Hannibal

This was very interesting. I've always loved learning about WWII. The ingenuity of the countries fighting amazes me. Things like this truly show how imaginative people are. Its a shame that it had to be used in war.

Apr. 13 2015 04:48 PM
jesse from Seattle

A wonderful job of weaving a captivating narrative of a thought provoking topic. I was a bit struck and so it as almost ironic that radio lab decided to seemingly connect censorship(by government to control fear and not give away position of balloons)to the Oregon tragedy, but nearly immediately following the segment, they had someone on to state that they caution anyone hiking in the Pacific northwest. That comment seemed rather dramatized and fear-inducing, when in all actuality the risk of encountering a live Japanese balloon, now, in the PNW is likely to be incredibly low. Together with some other comments on other episodes re: relegation of science in favor of drama and sensationalism, will hopefully give producers/editors pause. Radio labs form of info tainment is a real asset.

Apr. 10 2015 02:15 AM

Just to say, if anyone is interested there is a fictional book about these very balloons called "The Cloud Atlas" (not the other one)

I enjoyed reading it several years ago.

Apr. 09 2015 09:54 AM
Jane J. Asimov from oviedo, fl

This story was baffling to me. So many interesting historical events and mysteries go completely under the radar and are never talked about. This story was captivating. Just imagine a giant balloon with a bomb on the end float right by you and you have no idea the destruction it could have. Also the fact that wind could essentially carry a bomb across the world and launch it completely under the radar into one of the most protected countries. I always associated the balloon with happiness and children and in this case 9000 balloons were uses for destruction and evil. I believe this historical event should be shared more often.

Apr. 06 2015 11:07 PM
Virginia N Plath from United States

Amazing how I have never heard anything about this. World War II is one of my favorite subjects to learn about so this was for sure very interesting to me. Scary how a giant balloon bomb could travel that far.

Apr. 06 2015 08:51 PM
Agatha B. Silverstein from Florida

The idea of bombs floating along on ballons sent miles and miles away in Japan is frieghtening, but the idea on 300 of the 900 that landed in North America is even more frightening. The size of the ballons able to carry a man away by a simple gust of wind with the capability for mass destruction at time when the war on going is unthinkable.

Apr. 06 2015 08:44 PM
Katniss K Bond from USA

Great story! I never knew any of this. They really need to teach history better in school.

Apr. 06 2015 07:26 PM
Alice Z Lovecraft from Florida

I wish they covered more events like this in history class. It upsets me because it seems like we try to cover up some of the awful things we do in history. This whole event was crazy. They let it get out of control. Although it was on a much smaller scale, they caused a pretty good scare. It's pretty disturbing how they covered this up so easily, and people haven't spoken out until recently. If people had been more informed maybe these people could have lived. It also creeps me out because if they covered this up, what else don't we know? The unknown becomes more terrifying than it has to be.
Loved the show, I hope you continue to produce more history stories.

Apr. 06 2015 05:34 PM
Joy from Silver Lake, Oregon

I work for the Forest Service on the National Forest that includes Bly, and one of our archaeologists found in our files and shared with me a first-hand account by one of the "Forest Service guys" who was working near the bomb blast. He said one of the boys on the picnic had recently retrieved a weather balloon, was praised for returning it, and thought he'd found another of the same....

Apr. 05 2015 11:44 PM
Margie C.

There was a story about these balloons on HISTORY DETECTIVES, season 6:

Apr. 03 2015 04:56 PM
Ryan from UK

Strangely enough these balloon bombs are fairly well known in the UK. I know quite a few people who have heard of this. I think it was covered on QI?

Apr. 02 2015 02:01 PM
Elizabeth E. Moore from Florida

This podcast was really interesting, and I'm surprised that I haven't heard of it before. I enjoy learning about WWII, so it was cool to hear something new. It's also scary because know one knew these bombs were coming, especially in air balloons. Silent but deadly.

Mar. 31 2015 06:28 AM
Oscar Rosseau

Wow that was really interesting. I have never heard of this before, despite loving WWII history. Its amazing the Japanese designed balloons that could reach the US. The story about the sheriff was crazy. The part about him free-falling and grabbing the rope again to get the balloon to go down was insane. I also didn't know that the Doolittle raid was that damaging to Japanese morale.

Mar. 30 2015 09:51 PM
Alice L. Havisham from Oviedo, FL

nine thousand balloons launched and we are never taught about this. It is quite science orientated and very logical with the whole sandbag concept. I agree that that would be more terrifying because there are silent bombs going around dropping bombs rather than the Japanese coming to us directly. There was even a press blackout about it and we are still not taught about these crafty things, this is a very interesting topic and I felt that it was intense and well explained. I cannot believe it was not more successful, I am glad it did not but it was a very good idea. Wow the explosion was a shocker to me, that would freak anybody out.

Mar. 30 2015 09:51 PM
Gandalf G. Bond from Florida

I thought this podcast was really interesting and I was shocked that I had never even heard of this before. I enjoy learning about WWII events and I cant't believe nobody talks about this. This is a unique combat strategy that I think deserves a mention in more history books.

Mar. 30 2015 09:30 PM
Catniss S. Vonnegut from Oviedo

It's crazy that something that happened all over the country isn't taught or even talked about now. It's annoying that a lot of events are left out of the history textbooks because history is written by the victors. The fact that the Japanese found out how to use balloons to bomb America is crazy. This podcast is pretty interesting and it the innovation that comes from conflict is absolutely astounding.

Mar. 30 2015 08:01 PM
Elie S. Totsky from Oviedo, FL

It's crazy how unaware most people were of these actions, but it is also very interesting in their methods of going about it while also how this is related to such a historical event in history.

Mar. 30 2015 06:54 PM
Ayn A Tennyson from Oviedo FL

I love learning things especially relating to history. WW2 is one of my favorite subjects. It is fascinating to see how the government used different tactics that most of us today are completely unaware of. Their past methods are a bit spooky but very cool.

Mar. 29 2015 08:48 PM
Terry Foreman from Southern California

The Japanese turned to the wind for good reason: for centuries they had believed Japan was protected by the wind. Take a look at the Wikipedia article on kamikaze, which "is usually translated as "divine wind" (kami is the word for "god", "spirit", or "divinity", and kaze for "wind"). The word originated as the name of major typhoons in 1274 and 1281, which dispersed Mongolian invasion fleets under Kublai Khan."

Mar. 28 2015 12:16 PM
Anna Morrison from Florida, USA

This podcast was very interesting to me, as I am generally pretty interested in WWII in general. This was really an interesting perspective to get on the war, since it's not something I'd ever heard of before. It's very intriguing to see how many pieces of history get left out of textbooks and lectures. It really makes you wonder how much else has been overlooked in teaching history. This incident was very eerie and creepy, but also very cool. I always love learning new, undiscovered things about history.

Mar. 24 2015 09:39 PM
Virginia T Ripley from Florida

I found that there was a lot of history that isn't common knowledge, there is a lot of things we haven't been taught in our history books. I thought that the idea of the Japanese was a pretty good but at the same time it is pretty disturbing to think they could still be around.

Mar. 24 2015 07:48 AM

I remember my friend telling me about this a few years ago. So it wasn't completely unknown and we're in Ireland.

Mar. 24 2015 05:12 AM
Becky S. Gatsby from Florida

This was very eerie. Balloon bombs are a frightening, yet genius idea. The fact that these still may be around is kind of disturbing. I understand why they didn't want to inform the media about these bombs but if I was alive back then I would have wanted to know that there were bombs floating above me.

Mar. 23 2015 11:37 PM
Aldous T Chrinchton from Florida

I think it was a waste of time for the Japanese to try to attack in this way because it clearly wasn't efficient. It was a good try and idea though.

Mar. 23 2015 11:22 PM
Milo C. Rousseau from Florida

It's really not hard to imagine why this story kind of got left behind. It never really had enough of an impact to make it into mainstream knowledge. It's crazy to think that in times of war, so many of these types of events are probably forgotten about. The balloons were certainly an interesting strategy for the Japanese to try, and it's horrible that there ultimately were victims of those bombs. But when the main front of the war killed so many more, this type of event is just not relevant enough to those who didn't directly live through it.

Mar. 23 2015 10:44 PM
Toni from savannah, ga

I thought this was very interesting. Nobody would ever expect the hot air balloons to carry any cargo. The Japanese were extremely clever to come up with this. I find it weird that I have never heard of this before, it happened on home land and it isn't told in schools or in public. The details of this NPR was so spot on that it felt like I was there.

Mar. 23 2015 10:28 PM
Anna B. Silverstein

I've found that there is a lot about history that isn't common knowledge, and this is a prime example. It is an ingenious plan of terror by the Japanese, and a fitting use of censorship (one of the few times I support) to stop the U.S. from panicking. The lady's anecdote about the Japanese woman and child is a sad reminder of what could and did happen when people are scared.

Mar. 23 2015 10:15 PM
Harriet Truman from U.S.

How creepy would that be to walk outside to see one of these weird circles floating around? That's kind of a interesting and sneaky idea of floating bombs.The fact that the United States let these balloons float around is odd. This tactic by the Japanese was extremely brilliant warfare. It just scared the Americans so much that our lands could be taken over. Keeping these bombs under wraps was probably a better idea so people wouldn't get all wild up over these small incidents. The sad thing is that people had to die from this. I cant believe these devices might still be around. Defiantly an interesting story of these bombs.

Mar. 23 2015 10:06 PM
Alice A. Keats from Neverland

It's amazing that specialists are still seeking into the far past and find new information throughout the years. I have no clue and it baffles me how they uncover such information and imperative pieces of American History. It's odd they decided to use balloon bombs because I figure they would be large and easy to see but they state that it was hard to figure out what the floating white things in the sky were. THey say "strange parachute things", showing how the enemy is a master of timing and deception. It's funny how they had the entire country confused and scared at the same time. They were all confused as to what these floating things were.

Mar. 23 2015 09:56 PM
Asimov M. Gandalf from Orlando

I found it very interesting that the Japanese had attempted to drop bombs from balloons. It just seems as if it would be very difficult to get a balloon across the Pacific. I also think it was a very good idea for the government to hide the creations of these balloons as it would have inspired more fear in America, and there is no telling how much more destruction would have been caused to Japan. If two atomic bombs were dropped without knowledge of these balloon bombs, then what would the public have pressured for if this threat was known?

Mar. 23 2015 09:50 PM
Agatha Y. Coleridge

This story was so eerie yet intriguing about the Japanese balloon bombs. How they described the balloons as giant orbs was slightly frightening, and when they say you could still find remnants today makes me wonder how many others are just sitting in abandoned areas, waiting. I have never heard of these bombs before and like they said in the podcast, they were mostly kept a secret and had most of the evidence destroyed. After listening to this podcast, I want to learn more about these balloons and how the Japanese had crafted them directed them.

Mar. 23 2015 08:50 PM
Huxley T Wilder from United States

What an interesting story. I have never heard about these balloon bombs, and it's a little funny to me that the Japanese thought of something so obscure as huge balloons to carry bombs over the pacific to the mainland. It was actually a brilliant idea in theory to try to cause terror by silencing dropping explosives. I also find it extremely interesting that the government stopped all publishing of the stories, and I actually agree that it was a good idea to have kept it under lock and key. It would have certainly inspired terror in the hearts of post-WWII America. It makes me very sad to know that five children and a pregnant woman were casualties to the contraptions. This podcast casts a glimpse into American fear that turned into hate. It's crazy to think that they're might still be some out there, and they're still being found.

Mar. 23 2015 08:13 PM
Rudyard L. Kevoac from Florida

It's interesting that Japan tested unconventional military strategies during World War II as well. One can only wonder what impact the United States would have had within the Japanese homeland if they would have accessed this technology first.

Mar. 23 2015 05:13 PM
Craig Reinbold

John McPhee!

Mar. 23 2015 11:35 AM
Toni Harkins from Austin

Amazing story, at turns funny, exciting and tragic. And I'm pretty sure we solved the mystery of D.B. Cooper.

Mar. 19 2015 11:25 PM

I believe I had read in John McPhee's 1974 book "The Curve of Binding Energy" about one of the Japanese balloon bombs briefly disrupting operations at the Hanford, Washington site that was preparing nuclear material that was used in the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had not heard about the people who were killed by one of the balloon bombs, or about how the Japanese tried to design them to stay in the Jet Stream.

Mar. 19 2015 09:29 PM
yifan from vancouver

I cannot get the image of giant white jelly fishes drifting away above sea.
they go a long pilgrimage to kill.
i thought about it at least 20 times today.
thank you radiolab.for reminding me that.

Mar. 18 2015 09:08 PM

When we see how far the government has gone in this case to protect its agenda and prevent panic among the people, why is it so hard to believe they have done the same thing regarding UFOs?

Mar. 18 2015 05:31 PM
Garyw from Oregon

Good story. I learned many details I hadn't known. My family is from neighboring Lake County and I was editor of the newspaper in Lakeview for several years in the late '70s and early '80s. I wrote about the incident at least once around one of the tragic event's anniversaries. It's known as the only civilian casualties on U.S. soil during WWII. But I never came into contact with Cora Connor, unfortunately. Good reporting; kudos to the producer. (Almost made up for that wrestling story!)

Mar. 17 2015 11:19 PM
Zenqi from Morro Bay, CA

I love hearing "Anj NPR"

Mar. 17 2015 03:53 PM
Mike from Overland Park, KS

Great story, but this hasn't been a secret. I probably hadn't hear 2 minutes of the podcast and I knew what it was about. I read a lot of military history, mostly about the Pacific war, I've heard/read/seen on TV the story on the balloons many times, including the people killed in Oregon on a picnic.
What I didn't know was how they were made, by young girls, or the part about the sandbags being dropped as need by altimeters as they crossed the Pacific. And I sure as heck didn't know they found one in October.

But a great as always from Radiolab, my favorite podcast. I listen while I walk my dog Alfie. Best show I think was the one titled "Are You Sure?", the section on the sexual assault was incredible.

Mar. 16 2015 10:07 PM
Scott from Eugene

While Cora Conner's story is very moving, the "Japanese" (most likely Japanese-American) woman and child were NOT KILLED by the mob. People threw rocks at them; Cora's mother wouldn't let Cora bring them water; but they were not murdered, according to Cora's own account (I listened to it several times to make sure)

I've been to the Mitchell Monument outside of Bly--very haunting place, esp. the tree with the shrapnel still embedded in its trunk. The townspeople's brutal attack on the internees just adds to the horror of the story.

Mar. 16 2015 07:23 PM
Becca from Washington State

I toured Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington recently with my dad. During the tour our guide told us that during the war a balloon bomb landed on a power line and knocked out power to the plant temporarily which caused an emergency shutdown of the facility. Thought it was worth mentioning!

Mar. 16 2015 09:54 AM
Amanda Gardner from San Francisco, Ca

I listened to this accidently with the track "Airforms" by Steve Roden and I thought that it was the sound that came with the podcast. IT GOES PERFECTLY!! It actually intensifies and makes the story even more mysterious sounding and a little eerie. I recommend listening to these two together. You can find the track on Spotify. It is like it was meant for the background of this story.

Mar. 16 2015 12:27 AM
Jeremy from North Carolina

Archie Mitchell was my grandfather and I grew up hearing about this from my grandmother, who Archie married later. Archie went on to become a missionary at a leprosarium in Vietnam. In 1962 he was taken hostage by a group of Viet Cong. They had originally intended to also take his wife and children, but he convinced them to leave them behind. What happened to him after that point is a mystery.

Our family went to Bli years ago for the anniversary of the attack. I remember how women who had worked at the factory in Japan to make the paper as children sent hundreds of paper origami cranes. Thank you for telling this story.

Mar. 16 2015 12:20 AM
Yuriko from United States

My parents were teenagers in Japan during the WWII. I recall them telling me that Japan had run out much of their resources by the 3rd year into the war. My mom told me that, in order to make more weapons, everyone was required to submit to the military government anything iron, including iron pots, fences and gates. My dad’s newspaper scrapbooks from the war time tell me how twisted those media reports were back then – they made up stories to make the civilians believe that Americans were evil and that they were winning until the very last moment of the war (including successful results of balloon bombing).

Mar. 15 2015 05:29 PM

I was born in 1942 in Portland, and though my parents didn't move to southern Oregon until the summer of 1945, my grandparents and some other relatives lived there. Everyone knew about the paper balloons and the bombs they carried. We didn't need newspapers to tell us: news travels fast in a rural culture. We heard that some landed, and that there were explosions not only in Oregon but in places throughout the west. It was rumored that some people had died, but adults made sure not to talk about it in front of the kids. (I did hear about it later in school. After the war, it was frequently talked about and common knowledge, though the government still kept silent about it.

What I had never heard about until your program was that a Japanese woman and her child were killed by a mob. That stuns me, though thinking about it, I guess I should not be surprised, given the place and time (this would be far from the first or last ugly racial incident in southern Oregon.) We knew that there was an internment camp at Tule, and I know my parents were embarrassed by it. Not everyone was. I grew up hearing ugly references about "Japs", which was an epithet, in spite of the fact that we interned people who were patriotic citizens, some here for more than five generations, and who were part of our communities.

I too am disappointed that you didn't follow up on the elements of that specific to this story. It belongs in it. We are long overdue in doing a deep examining its conscience, and you lost a chance to gently open that door. I hope that in another program, you will explore that part of this specific incident, so that the light shines on it too.

Mar. 14 2015 05:31 PM
Martin Kipp from Gainesville, FL

I actually learned about this when I went to the Edo Museum in Tokyo. There was a nice model of one and also a map of where they landed. There really should be more about this.

Mar. 14 2015 05:18 PM
Mark Samuel Tuttle from Orinda, California

When I was young, my late mother told me the story about the balloons. She also explained that it was a big secret. I'm wondering now how did she know?

Mar. 14 2015 12:15 PM
John Metcalf from United States

Interestingly, the release of this podcast corresponds with the 70th anniversary of another WWII event that few talk about—the fire bombing of Tokyo that killed over 100,00 people, mostly civilians. Some consider it the deadliest day of WWII.

Mar. 13 2015 06:27 PM
Innis Lusk from Colorado

I gather from the comments that the Japanese woman and child were killed, but it wasn't mentioned in the podcast, nor any info about what happened to them afterwards. Where buried, or if they lived if they made it to Tule.

Mar. 13 2015 06:03 PM
Ro Le

In Canada, the majority balloon bombs were discovered in British Columbia but some traveled east to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Also some traveled north to the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Mar. 13 2015 05:29 PM
Katie from North East

Simon Conter from Toronto Ontario,

The Song at the beginning is called "Doe, Jane" by Shakey Graves.

Mar. 13 2015 10:19 AM
Benny from Israel

What a fascinating story!
I found it interesting as some aspects of it reminded me of the conflict in Gaza last summer. Just like the US airforce, the Israeli army had unrestricted access to Gaza, while the Palestinians, like the Japanese, had to make do with sending away inaccurate bombs. The Israeli government couldn't keep the rockets themselves a secret, but there was tight censorship on the whereabouts of the landings, so as not to aid the Palestinians with their aim. One key difference today is the existence of social media, so the government had to contend not only with news outlets, but also with every single citizen with a smartphone.

Mar. 13 2015 05:46 AM
Jim Chadderdon from Klamath Falls, Oregon

Thanks for this story. I had the pleasure of filming Cora Connor last year for another story about Klamath Basin history. As a person who works currently in tourism in Klamath Falls, Oregon we share this story regularly. People are always fascinated. We direct people to the Mitchell Monument regularly, and hand out brochures with this story. The Mitchell Family is buried here in Klamath Falls in the beautiful and historic Linkville Pioneer Cemetery. Additional information can be learned locally at the Klamath County Museum. I learned several new things from your podcast. I'm not surprised by the recent find in BC as we know there are many of these balloon bombs still out there. It's a neat story and thanks again for giving it light. J. Chadderdon, Klamath County Tourism

Mar. 13 2015 03:49 AM
Simon from Grand Rapids


Mar. 12 2015 10:21 PM
Mae Warner from Winston Salem, NC

I listened to the description of what happened in the "sleepy loving town in south central Oregon", and it was no tragedy. It was murder by a mob of townspeople. It does not matter how "scared" they were, that kind of horrifying, primitive behavior needs to be explained.and somehow resolved I was disappointed the RadioLab dropped the subject, never explaining who the Japanese lady and her child were, why they had been brought to the town (so they could be attacked?), or what happened to them or their killers afterward.

RadioLab, why drop that on your listeners, then change the subject? Nice, supposedly civilized American townspeople descending into barbarism and anarchy is more frightening than the Japanese plot to drop balloon bombs in the first place. Again, it was disingenuous to refer to the incident as a "tragedy". It was a crime of the worst sort.

Mar. 12 2015 08:41 PM
Simon Conter from Toronto Ontario

Who is the musician that plays the song during the opening advertisement for the project in Austin? What is the name of the song??

Mar. 12 2015 08:07 AM
Rich Jaworski from Blair, Nebraska

The Fu-Go balloon inland landings were one of the prime factors which gave American balloonist Troy Bradley confidence that his successful February 2015 world record challenging distance flight which launched from Saga, Japan would succeed. The launch crew in Japan was credited and thanked by Bradley for their contribution and international cooperation making his flight possible. The world and attitudes have changed remarkedly since 1945.

Mar. 12 2015 12:08 AM
Tom from Oro Valley

What about the epilogue? What happened later to Archie Mitchell is not related to the original story, but also interesting, and weirdly coincidental.

Mar. 11 2015 11:19 PM
Jeff Schuh from Oregon

John McPhee writes about the balloon bombs, and talks extensively about identifying the source of the sand and paper in the book "Irons in the Fire" published in 1998 in the section "The Gravel Page". In the same chapter, he also, in a way that McPhee is so good at, ties in the story of Adolph Coors III murder by way of forensic analysis.

I'm almost surprised McPhee wasn't mentioned in this story.

Mar. 11 2015 10:42 PM
Kristian Mickelson from Seattle

Great show! I went to school on the southern Oregon coast in 80-90's. I remember hearing about these bombs and people who were killed in class. We also learned about the only time the US was bombed by foreign aircraft. When Japan used a float plane launched from a submarine to try and start a forest fire.

We also learned about the failed Jefferson state, which is quite interest.
I would say the reason why most hadn't heard of this was just regional bias as people who grew up in the "Jefferson State" know of all these events.

Mar. 11 2015 10:42 PM
Jeff Hoke from Monterey, CA

My father worked on a secret project during WWII to investigate these FU-GO's. He said the balloons were made from fish skins, and were created to start panic from forest fires in the Northwest. He remembers one went off in a schoolyard, but most got lost. Even though the government tried to hush all news of the balloon bombs, he remembers a sequence in a newspaper comic, 'The Adventures of Smilin' Jack', where Smilin' Jack gets carried away by one of these balloons. So much for secrets.

Mar. 11 2015 09:14 PM
Allan Axelrod from Stillwater Oklahoma

I plan to go to Austin Texas in October, and I'd really like to do the gps-guided narrative experience. Where can I find updates about the project between now and October?

Mar. 11 2015 06:29 PM
Kyle from Omaha, NE

Matt Norman, the bomb was actually in Omaha. There is a plaque at the site.

Mar. 11 2015 05:40 PM
Tor from Madison, WI

Great story! For anybody interested in one aspect of the government response to this threat, read about the "Triple Nickle" paratroopers here:

Mar. 11 2015 05:36 PM
Matt Norman from United States

I knew exactly what this was about when the podcast started! I had heard about these air balloon bombs from Japan before. I don't know if this is apocryphal, but I heard a story about one of these bombs blowing up a home in the town I live in; Lincoln, Nebraska.

Mar. 11 2015 04:57 PM
J. Dollarhyde from California

This reminded me of another WWII event kept quiet for security reasons, then hardly discussed later on: Exercise Tiger, in which 946 American servicemen were killed in the preparations for the Normandy invasion.

Mar. 11 2015 04:07 PM
Revolution United from United States

Jad + Robert + Staff

You are all awesome. Once again, phenomenal.

Mar. 11 2015 03:53 PM

So that thing you're doing on Austin? PLEASE do that in Boston. :)

Mar. 11 2015 01:53 PM
WRX from Chicago

Fascinating show!

Mar. 11 2015 12:15 PM

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