In the spring of 1945, allied forces were winning the war in Europe and Americans were anticipating the beginning of the end for the axis powers. Across the Pacific, in the land of the rising sun, a last ditch effort to bring fear to the citizens of the United States was in full swing. Japan was launching rice paper balloons carrying bombs toward our west coast. The bombs were intended to ignite fires in the forests along the Oregon and California coast but some of them traveled a much greater distance. At least two made it all the way to Eastland and Comanche Counties and the Texas State Guard from Dublin was called out. Japan began launching the balloons carrying fire bombs toward the West Coast in late fall of 1944. The balloons floated from Japan, traveling on the jet stream at speeds of 90 to 120 miles an hour. The attack continued until the spring of ‘45. There were an estimated 9,000 missiles sent out across the Pacific with maybe 1,000 actually completing the trip.
Pug Guthrie, a Desdemona schoolboy at the time, was riding the bus home when he and his friends spotted a large balloon coming down across the dirt road from the cemetery.
“As soon as the bus stopped, we jumped out and ran to the place where we thought it had come down,” Guthrie said. “It must have already lost its bombs because all that I saw was just the balloon. Some of the boys jerked out their pocket knives and started cutting off pieces but I didn’t like the smell of creosote and so I didn’t bother it.”
The following day, a troop of Army personnel from the base in Abilene came to the school and confiscated all the pieces of the balloon the boys had collected.
Inez Heeter of Desdemona was an aircraft spotter for the Army during WWII. She took her job seriously and although she searched the skies daily with her binoculars, that balloon was the first thing she saw worth reporting. On March 23, 1945, she stared at a big balloon emblazoned with the rising sun of Imperial Japan. It was floating over the Magnolia Refinery when she spotted it and she immediately called the Army. They told her that she must be mistaken; there were no balloons from Japan near Desdemona.
“Inez was hopping mad about that,” said her friend, Mary Ficklin. “She went to her grave telling everybody that she did indeed see that balloon and no one in authority would believe her.”
There was at least one other balloon bomb that landed in this area. It was found at Comyn near De Leon. Wade Cowan was a member of the Texas State Guard, Dublin Unit, and he told the story of being called out with several other guard members to “sit” with the balloon until Army personal could arrive to collect it.
“The balloon was about 30-feet high when extended and carried five metal canisters,” Cowan said. “Four were incendiaries and one was a fragmentary or anti-personnel bomb.”
Cowan remembered that people who knew about the bombs at Desdemona and Comyn were very excited, thinking that the Japanese were about to invade the country. “However when they realized that people could not survive at the altitudes where the balloons drifted, they relaxed a little. Government censorship of the press kept panic down. Still it was a time to be watchful and alert.”
The only fatalities reported as a result of the balloon-bomb attack were in Oregon where a family attempted to take apart a bomb they found. A woman and six children were killed.
The war in Europe was over May 8, 1945, and after two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, they too surrendered on Aug. 14.
Many, many brave men gave up their lives so that the only missiles we had to fear in America were paper balloons.