Japanese Balloon Story

By The History Detectives Team
21 July 2008
Category: Viewer Mailbag

Fred Granata of Portland, OR writes in with a personal story that contradicts the contention that the presence of Japanese Balloon Bombs was "Top Secret."

This concerns the Japanese balloon bomb segment of the History Detectives program last Monday, July 14, which I understand is produced by OPB. I was pre-teen aged living here in Portland during that time and remember the episode well.

The statement that this was "Top Secret" and kept from the American public is simply incorrect. This is what happened: when it became apparent that these deadly Japanese weapons were reaching North America and particularly the Pacific Northwest, the civil defense authorities, concerned with the safety of the civilian population, knew that we had to be warned. They devised a scheme whereby speakers came to every Portland school. (I was attending Kellogg, then an elementary school) We were called into assembly and told of the balloons and the danger they posed. We were instructed to spread the word, to warn everyone we knew about them with this caveat which the speaker said repeatedly, "do not write it down". Immature children that we were, we felt thrilled that we had been let in on a military secret.

Of course, we would carefully follow the instruction not to write it down. I was a newspaper delivery boy, and at the end of the school day, I repaired to the paper station. Picking up my allotment of the Oregon Journal, I gazed at the big black headline on the front page reporting the balloon bomb story that we had been ordered not to write down.

Your history detectives, had they gone a mere three miles from the OPB building, to the downtown library or to the Oregon Historical Society, could easily have found the newspaper article and learned that the balloon story was not Top Secret.

That said, I do enjoy the series and believe it is done most professionally.

Fred Granata, Portland, OR

Thank you for contacting us with this invaluable story. The OPB researchers spent many hours winding through microfilm reels from the USAF Historical Foundation reviewing documents labeled "Top Secret." It is regrettable we did not uncover the Oregon Journal headlines in our search. We are very grateful to have your eyewitness account of the events.

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