The caption below a set of photos on the front page of the Aug. 20, 1945, edition of The Jamestown Sun said “Now it can be told.”
The caption explained that at the request of the War Department, the media had withheld information about a Japanese balloon carrying explosives had crashed near Warsaw, North Dakota, on March 30, 1945.
At the time of the incident, the staff of the Grand Forks Herald had photographed the wreckage but didn’t publish the pictures out of concern of causing public panic.
That came to an end when the Japanese issued a qualified acceptance of American terms on Aug. 12, 1945, in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons earlier in the month.
President Harry Truman ordered a halt to atomic bomb attacks but conventional bombing attacks continued until the unconditional surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. The official surrender was signed on the deck of the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Japanese military started sending what they referred to as “Fu-go,” fire balloons, toward North America in 1944. Once launched in Japan, the balloons sailed on the jet stream towards the United States or Canada, depending on how the winds were blowing.
Each balloon carried explosives and incendiary devices designed to kill or injure anyone who approached the balloon or set fire to forests or farm fields.
The intent, according to historians, was to take the war to the American homeland and cause panic in the public.
Japan launched an estimated 9,000 balloons from Nov. 4, 1944, through early 1945. The best American estimate is about 300 reached the United States.
In one incident in Oregon, a pregnant woman and five children were killed when the Sunday school picnic discovered one of the balloons and triggered the explosives
The balloons may have been responsible for some forest fires although the timing of the balloon attacks, during the winter months between November and May, likely prevented major fires.
The March 30, 1945, balloon crash in North Dakota was near the end of the Japanese balloon offensive on North America. Historic records indicate the last launches occurred in April 1945. The program may have been discontinued because American bombers had destroyed some of the factories that produced the hydrogen the was used in the balloons.
From a military sense, the balloons failed the Japanese objective of generating fear in the United States largely because the War Department’s prohibition of publication of information and the cooperation of the news media of the day.
But that didn’t stop the press from informing the public how close we’d come to fire and destruction as soon as the war was over.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com