It has been 74 years since the end of World War II, but even the remoteness of southwestern Holt County was not removed from the endeavors of war.
It was in October of 1945 a month after the surrender of Japan that the Atkinson Graphic reported that a military secret of top-order, a Japanese balloon landed in Holt County south of Atkinson during February of that year.
Reports in the Graphic said that several people saw a giant balloon drifting close to the ground southwest of Amelia and near Swan Lake. Some people got in their cars and started to follow it. Vern Saseser of rural Amelia tried to follow but got stuck.
Raymond Dexter, who lived about a mile and a half from the crash site, first noticed it when the turkeys on his place had their necks cranked looking at it. Raymond told the government agents this was at about 5 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1945.
The balloon struck the ground in the Willow Lake area near the Martin Mumstein place, which is now owned by Jeremy Stevens, The balloon got hooked on a fence. Many of the neighbors also saw the balloon go down.
Don Dexter is one of the only neighbors who is still alive that remembers the event.
"I was 12 at the time and my sister Hazel was maybe 20. We saw it come down and the grown-ups were eating, so Hazel and I went to check it out," said Dexter. It was big and we did not know what it was except that we had never seen anything like it and we knew it was not right." It came down in a hay meadow about two miles north of Raymond Dexter's house. After it hit the ground, it rolled for about a mile until it got caught on a fence and tore.
The balloon attracted quite a crowd. Hazel reported to the authorities that Lowell Hall, Roy Warden, Lyle Warden, Lorezo Herrington, August Carstens, Norris Carstens, Robert Ballagh, Glenn Ballagh and Lenora Lewis, all residents of the area, came to check out the wreck.
Don's family took the wreckage back to the ranch. Don's sister Hazel said she went back the following day and she located two metal cylinders approximately 18 inches long and four inches in diameter, which she hauled on horseback to the homestead where they were then taken to a blowout and buried. The Army out of Omaha which examined the devices determined the cylinders were firebombs. The balloon part was stored in the cattle shed.
Hazel wrote a letter under her dad's name to the United States Department of Commerce of which the weather bureau was a part of. A letter addressed to Mr. W.T. Dexter of Amelia and dated Feb. 23, 1945, stated, "It was evident from the description which you have that the balloon and attached equipment was not the type which is released from certain Weather Bureau offices for metrological purposes. Therefore, we passed the information on to another government agency which expressed interest in investigating further. One of their representatives will probably have talked with you before you receive this letter but if not please continue to take good care of the equipment until he does. Your alertness in reporting the device is greatly appreciated.
Very truly yours,
Robert V. Lawrence. Acting Regional Director.
Don said it was not very long after that when two carloads of FBI agents came to the place and wanted to see what we had found. "The agents interviewed the adults and loaded up all the evidence of the crash. One of the men went to the blowout and deactivated what we thought were the bombs with a couple of ten-penny nails. That man had to take one car back by himself which had the balloon bomb parts in it. That was the last we ever heard of it again until after the war when the government released information about the balloon bombs.
As it turned out the balloon was a Fu-Go fire balloon. The Japanese fire balloon was the first-ever weapon possessing intercontinental range. The Japanese balloon attacks on North America were at that time the longest ranged attacks ever conducted in the history of warfare.
From late 1944 until early 1945, the Japanese launched over 9,300 fire balloons, of which 300 were found or observed in the U.S. Despite the high hopes of their designers, the balloons were ineffective as weapons, causing only six deaths (from one single incident) and a small amount of damage. The deaths occurred when the victims decided to touch the balloon, thus causing it to explode.
The Japanese designed two types of balloons. The first was called the "Type B Balloon" and was created by the Japanese Navy. It was 30 ft. in diameter and consisted of rubberized silk. The type B balloons were sent first and mainly used for meteorological purposes. The Japanese used them to determine the possibility of the bomb-carrying balloons reaching The United States. The second type was the bomb-carrying balloon. Japanese bomb-carrying balloons were 33' in diameter and, when fully inflated, held about 19,000 cubic feet of hydrogen. Their launch sites were located on the east coast of the main Japanese island of Honshū.
Japan released the first of these bomb-bearing balloons on Nov. 3, 1944. They were found in Alaska, Arizona, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Mexico, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and the Yukon Territory.
General Kusaba's men launched over 9,000 balloons throughout the course of the project. The Japanese expected 10% around 900 of them to reach America, which is also what is currently believed by researchers. About 300 balloon bombs were found or observed in America. It is likely that more balloon bombs landed in unpopulated areas of the United States.
The last one was launched in April 1945.
Mr. Rodney Keim of the Brush Creek Brewing Company of Atkinson was the source who informed the Independent of this neat bit of Holt County history. Keim who found mention of this in an older newspaper edition contacted the Independent. Keim being the entrepreneur he is formulated a new beer to be sold at Brush Creek being called "Bombs Away in an Imperial IPA, who received it's name specifically because of this unearthed story. It's available now at Brush Creek Brewing Company while quantities last." said Kiem.