The Wyoming State Archives record that at approximately 6:15 p.m., Dec. 6, 1944, three men and one woman at Ben Goe coal mine, west of Thermopolis, witnessed a strange event. They saw a parachute in the air with lit flares, a few moments later they heard a whistling sound and then the boom of an explosion. Shortly after, they saw smoke rising from a draw near the mine.
The Hot Springs County Sheriff at the time, Kem Moyer, proceeded to investigate that night and into the following day. He searched for a man believed to be with the parachute; no man was found but something else was. Moyer told the local newspaper, the Thermopolis Independent Record, that a heavy bomb had exploded leaving fragments behind approximatley a mile and a half from the mine, near the Meeteetse-Thermopolis highway.
This was the first U.S. recording of a Japanese Fu-Go high altitude balloon bomb. According to Don Day, approximately 9,000 of these bombs were launched by the Japanese military with the intent to terrorize the American public during the closing years of World War II.
Day is an accomplished meteorologist. He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1992, is an experienced hot air balloon pilot and has extensive knowledge of lighter than air aviation.
It was because of his experience and expertise that Day was contacted by the production company Objective Media Group America to serve as a consultant for the documentary, The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion.
Along with possibly setting wildfires, the bombs did cause fatalities. On May 5, 1945, a woman and five children were killed when they discovered a large balloon on the ground near Bly, Oregon.
Day and the team also researched weather patterns from the period in an attempt to find more of the rogue balloons that may have landed without detonating. By inputting the information into a computer, a simulated scenario of the period’s weather patterns was created. Comparing that information to locations some of these balloons have been found yielded positive results and may lead to the discovery of more of these deadly devices lost to time in the American wilderness.
The film, The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion, from Objective Media Group America, is available to view now on Discovery +.
Wyoming native Floyd Whiting has worked in both broadcasting and print journalism. Raised in Auburn Wyoming, Floyd works to bring a clear understanding to the issues and news that’s important to Wyoming residents.