The Mitchell Monument, located in the Mitchell Recreation Area in the Fremont National Forest, Lake County, Oregon, is dedicated to six people who were the only ones to lose their lives on the continental Untied States in WWII as a direct result of enemy action.
On May 5th, 1945 Pastor Mitchell, from the Christian and Missionary Alliance church took his pregnant 26yr old wife and five young teenagers from the church on a picnic/fishing trip.
They originally planned to go to a different location, but the forest road gate was closed. They picked a different spot farther into the forest.
While Pastor Mitchell was unloading the supplies, the kids, who were with Eylise Mitchell found what they likely thought was a weather balloon. When they jostled it, a bomb exploded killing all the youngsters and Mrs. Mitchell. (For whom the Mitchell Monument is named.)
On April 18, 1942, the US attacked Tokyo prompting Japanese military officials to create a fleet of approximately 9,000 balloons made of paper and/or rubberized silk that could carry anti-personnel and incendiary bombs to North America (Approx. 6,000 miles east). The plan was that these bombs carrying four incendiary bombs and one anti-personnel bomb, would land somewhere in a wooded areas, explode, and start forest fires that would take the time and resources to extinguish.
While our government thought it possible that approximately one thousand of the balloons reached the United States, there were actually only 285 reported sightings. Almost all on the West Coast, however there were two found in Michigan.
The first two balloons were launched from the east coast from the island of Honshu November 3, 1944. One of the balloons was spotted by the U.S. Navy 66 miles southwest of San Pedro, California.
More balloons were soon sighted by government watchers but to cut down the possibility of public panic and to deny the Japanese as to how their plan was progressing, the U.S. Government decided to keep the balloon bombs secret.
After the May 5 deaths, government officials decided they had better notified the public of the danger.
This is the tree that was gouged by shrapnel from the bomb located just behind The Mitchell Monument. It is an Oregon Heritage Tree.
The whole indecent was witnessed by a road work crew led by Richard Barnhouse. He saw the children standing in a semi-circle around something, but couldn’t see what it was. Elsie Mitchell several times to Rev. Mitchell who said, “Wait a minute, and I’ll come and look at it.”
“Just then there was a terrific explosion which shook the ground for a considerable distance. Needles, twigs, and sticks flew through the air, some of which were later picked up near the grader. Barnhouse immediately stopped the grader, which was about 150 yards from the explosion, and both he and Mitchell ran to the scene. Four of the children were dead, part of them badly mangled, another died immediately, and Mrs. Mitchell died within a few minutes. None were conscious after the explosion. Mrs. Mitchell’s clothes were on fire, and Mr. Mitchell immediately put this fire out….
When Barnhouse and Mitchell first arrived at the site, the balloon bag was stretched out full length over some low bushes with two of the shroud lines handing from a stump about ten feet in height. Parts of the mechanism and bomb were scattered quite thickly over an area ninety feet in diameter and fragments from the demolition bomb were found as much as 400 feet away. The balloon was complete and very little damaged, but it was estimated by the military authorities from its weathering, mildew on the paper, and other evidence that the balloon had been there for a month or more. [Melva Bach, History of the Fremont National Forest, pg. 207-208]”
The site where The Mitchell Monument is located was originally owned by Weyerhaeuser Corporation. The company donated the park land in 1996 to the Fremont National Forest . A small picnic area was developed around the monument. I can say, that while it is a lovely place, I've been to a lot of memorial places and I've never felt such a permeating sadness as I did here.
If you are ever out in the area. Stop by and honor these folks.
On a side note: The Rev Mitchell went on to remarry and take on a mission in a leprosarium (Leper hospital) near Buon Ea Na, Vietnam.
On May 30th in 1962, he was grabbed up by the Viet Cong. In front of his wife and daughters he was bound and taken away. He was never seen again.
From Bly, Oregon head east on Oregon Route 140 for 1.5 miles and turn left onto County Road 1259. After .5 miles on the county road, turn right onto Forest Service Road 34. It is a paved road part of the way but has HUGE potholes! Follow the forest road for approximately 8 miles. The monument parking area is on the right side of the road.