This forested area near Bly is the only place in the United States where people died as the result of enemy action.
This forested area near Bly is the only place in the United States where people died as the result of enemy action.

The Klamath Basin might seem an unlikely region to view sites that figured, sometimes prominently, in the history of World War II. But the war had significant impacts throughout the region.

Three are especially relevant: 

n A forested area near Bly is the only place in the United States where people died as the result of enemy action.

n Just south of the Oregon-California state line, upwards of 18,000 Japanese Americans were held behind barbed wire during the war years.

n Just miles from downtown Klamath Falls, a recuperation center helped Marines recover from tropical ailments.  All are reminders that wars, no matter where or how far away they’re fought, affect everyone.

 Mitchell Monument

The most unusual World War II site is the Mitchell Monument 13 miles northeast of Bly. It’s the only place in the continental United States where Americans - a pregnant Sunday school teacher and five children - were killed as the result of enemy action, a balloon bomb launched from Japan that flew over the Pacific Ocean.

A stone monument with a brass plaque built on the exact location of the May 5, 1945, explosion was dedicated in 1950 by Oregon Gov. Douglas McKay, who said the six were war casualties “just as surely as if they had been in uniform.” In 2003, the bombing site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Mitchell Monument Shrapnel Tree, a ponderosa pine that shows evidence of the explosion, is an Oregon Heritage Tree.

The National Register nomination form says the incident stands as “the most recognized representation of the use of a Japanese strategic weapon against the United States during a major global war and documents the first use of an intercontinental ballistic weapon in history.”

The incident stirred controversy because information about the balloon bomb that caused the deaths was withheld by government censors. It was not until June 1, 1945, that the government lifted its news blackout and warned the public about the potentially lethal bombs.

Those warnings came too late for the six Bly people. Minister Archie Mitchell, his five-months pregnant wife, Elsie, and five Bly-area children were on a morning picnic. Archie parked the car while Elsie and the children jumped out. Weeks later, Archie recounted, “As I got out of the car to bring the lunch, the others were not far away and called to me they had found something that looked like a balloon. I heard of Japanese balloons so I shouted a warning not to touch it. But just then there was a big explosion. I ran up there and they were all dead.” Along with Elsie Mitchell, 26, killed were Dick Patzke, 14, Jay Gifford, 13, Edward Engen, 13, Jean Patzke, 13, and Sherman Shoemaker, 11.

Tule Lake Unit of WW II Valor in the Pacific National Monument  

The Tule Lake Unit is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which was established in 2008 by President George W. Bush. The unit includes the Tule Lake Segregation Center and Camp Tulelake.

The Tule Lake Segregation Center began as one of 10 relocation centers and, at its peak, held 18,789 of the 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them American citizens, who were displaced from their homes. Tule Lake became the nation’s only Segregation Center in 1943. The resulting harsh conditions - barbed wire fences and guards equipped with rifles stationed at towers - led to martial law and the construction of a stockade with a jail. The center closed in 1945.

During the summer or by arrangement, National Park Service rangers lead guided tours of the Tule Lake center’s stockade, one of the few remaining buildings, and Camp Tulelake, built as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in 1935. During the war, the camp held detainees from the Tule Lake Segregation Center and in 1944 was converted to a prisoner of war camp that held Italian prisoners of war and, later, German POWs. The last prisoners left Camp Tulelake in November 1945.

Klamath Falls Marine Barracks

Not all battles during World War II were fought on land or sea. From 1944 to 1946, nearly 5,000 Marines battled such tropical diseases as malaria, filariasis and elephantiasis at the 800-acre Klamath Falls Marine Barracks, a treatment and recuperation center four miles from downtown Klamath Falls.

The first Marines arrived in April 1944 and the last were discharged in March 1946. Within a year of its opening, treatments proved that malaria and filariasis, reputed to be incurable diseases, could be successfully treated. By mid-May 1945, 4,718 patients, mostly Marines, had been sent to the barracks. Of those, 2,942 were transferred to full duty while another 708 were waiting reassignments.

Other Sites

Several other sites have ties to World War II. Among them is Kingsley Field, the airport that expanded from being a small municipal airport after the outbreak of war. At its peak, the Klamath Falls Naval Air Station was home to 103 aircraft, 390 officers, 2,603 enlisted men and 200 civilians. Gunnery and bombing targets were established at nearby lakes, with the main aerial gunnery ranges in forested and agricultural areas near Lakeview. Following the war, the airport was renamed Kingsley Field in memory of Lieutenant David R. Kingsley of Portland who posthumously was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics in a June 1944 bombing raid in Romania.