BY DAVID PERRYMAN
During World War II, Americans from Washington state to Southern California kept their eyes on the western skies for any sign of a Japanese attack. During that same era, those living along the east coast from Maine to Florida were ever vigilant regarding German activity.
Hundreds of miles inland, many civil defense volunteers across the Heartland were issued booklets that included detailed descriptions and pictures of enemy aircraft … just in case.
Even though at least one Nazi submarine sailed close enough to actually photograph the New York City skyline and Japan dispatched in our direction about 9,000 helium filled paper balloons to be carried by the jet stream, history tells us that during World War II, not a single continental American city was bombed from the air … by enemy forces.
However, based on an incident in the very early hours of July 5, 1943, the people of Boise City, OK, would readily attest that a bomb is a bomb, whether it is dropped by the Japanese, the Germans, or even as it turned out, the United States Army Air Corp.
According to newspaper and magazine accounts, the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress training at Dalhart, TX, had received orders to make a practice bombing run on a target that would be “framed by four lights” near Conlen, TX, about 20 miles northeast of Dalhart.
Two unfortunate factors created a more unfortunate incident. First, the crew’s regular navigator had taken ill and a substitute had been enlisted to chart the way; second, about 45 miles to the north of Dalhart, most of the lights of Boise City had been shut off … with the exception of the lights on the corners of the courthouse square.
Somehow, after leaving the Dalhart base, the young inexperienced, substitute navigator had made a 45-mile mistake: he mistook the four lights centered on Boise City’s main square for the intended practice target.
The air raid continued for 30 long minutes, through six separate runs with a bomb being dropped on each pass. People who were still awake ran for cover “in no particular direction,” according to a Time magazine report, and it didn’t take long for everyone else to be shaken out of their beds so that they also could run around “in no particular direction.”
Bombs barely missed munitions trucks and gas haulers and a number of other structures. Frank Garrett, who operated the light and power company, ran to the Southwestern Public Service building and quickly plunged the entire town into total darkness. Whether it was the extinguishment of the lights or the frantic calls from John Atkins, the town’s air raid warden, the plane left and the only World War II air attack on a city in the continental United States came to an end.
When the sun rose, despite extensive damage to Forrest Bourk’s garage and the windows of the Baptist church, army inspectors who arrived with the FBI and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported that the bombing of the Cimarron County town shortly after midnight had caused only $25 in damage.
So the good news was that no one was killed. The bad news was that not only did the substitute navigator miss the target by about 45 miles, but he also failed to have a single bomb get closer than 93 feet to the courthouse, sitting squarely in the middle of the four lights.
I guess the only lesson this week is, “If we want a job done right, we shouldn’t hire substitute navigators or uncertified teachers.”
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House