After 42 Years, Japanese Heal Forgotten Wound

Times Staff Writer

Dick Patzke was an outgoing kid-about-town in Bly, Ore., in 1945. Of a group of children who went on a picnic up on Gearhart Mountain on May 5 of that year, 14-year-old Dick was the oldest and the boldest.

The group came upon a shiny object resting in a snowbank lingering in the spring melt. Perhaps it was blond, blue-eyed Dick who reached out to tug at the device, as the other children crowded around him.

Just then, the children's chaperon, the Rev. Archie Mitchell, came running toward them from the woods shouting: "Don't touch that!"

The glade exploded. Shrapnel whizzed by on either side of Mitchell; trees were sheared off at the trunk.

When the debris settled, Dick Patzke and three other children were dead. Also dead was Mitchell's pregnant wife, 26-year-old Elsie.

Dick Patzke's 13-year-old sister, Joan, initially survived the explosion of what turned out to be a Japanese-made balloon bomb, but did not live to leave the mountain.

Other than having the distinction of being the only victims of World War II to die in the continental U.S., the Bly minister's wife and the five children left barely a ripple on history.

The small logging town of Bly buried its dead.

Most relatives of the victims forgave the Japanese, although some remained bitter.

A monument went up. Now and then a local newspaper would relive the event on an anniversary of its occurrence.

"Very few people in the U.S., even in Klamath Falls (50 miles west of Bly) know what happened up here," said Dottie McGinnis, the sister of Joan and Dick Patzke.

But the Bly tragedy was remembered this week in a small, reverential ceremony on Gearhart Mountain.

Reparations were made and healing begun--for the families of Dick Patzke and the five others, for the Japanese children, adults now, who made the balloons that carried the bombs to the Oregon shore, and for Yuzuru John Takeshita, who engineered the ceremony.

Four Years at Relocation Camp

Takeshita spent four years of his youth at the Tule Lake Relocation Camp in Northern California near the Oregon border.

In the confinement of camp, any entertainment was welcomed. So when, one day, there was a rumor that the Japanese had sent balloon bombs to the United States, The teen-age Takeshita and his friends watched the sky all day in the hope of seeing one of the balloons pass overhead. Their efforts were in vain.

Forty years later, Takeshita, now a professor of Population Planning and Health Behavior at the University of Michigan, was visiting friends in the southwest of Japan, an area known for its durable rice paper, used to make paper lanterns and umbrellas.

His friend mentioned that she and her classmates had been removed from their high school classrooms during the war and sent off to a factory to make rice-paper balloons, which would be attached to bombs.

The girls were somewhat disappointed that for all their hardships--deprived of schooling and suffering cold and hunger in the factory--most of the balloons failed to reach their target. The total damages inflicted by the balloons were a few forest fires and six people killed.

The story triggered Takeshita's memory of a boyhood day spent watching for the balloons. Curious to know more about the balloon bombs, he visited the balloon room at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum when he was in Washington on business.

There he found a description of the balloon-bomb explosion in Bly. "It mentioned that six people were killed and it listed the names," said Takeshita, 61. "I saw these names and it shook me. My daughter is about the age of some of the victims."

Later, on a Japanese television show, Takeshita saw an old woman talking about when she was a schoolteacher and her class was mobilized to make balloon bombs. The woman, now a pacifist, grieved for what the experience had done to her students by their indirect involvement in the war. She too mentioned six nameless victims. Only six , she said.

Takeshita wrote to the woman and supplied the names and ages of the victims. "When you talk about the bombs in the future," he wrote, "could you please mention the people who died and say a prayer for them?"

When he didn't hear from the woman for three months, Takeshita was afraid he'd been too forward with his feelings.

But this June, the woman, 74-year-old Yoshiko Hisaga, telephoned Takeshita and said she had a favor to ask. Hisaga had been meeting the past three months with her former students who participated in making the balloons.

With Takeshita's letter naming the victims, the women had undergone a transformation, from thinking only six victims, to: "My God, as many as six."

They had been busy folding paper cranes, a Japanese symbol of healing, and, by extension, peace. They asked Takeshita to deliver 1,000 paper cranes, along with messages from the women, to the families of the victims of the Bly bombing.

An excerpt from one of the letters: "We participated in the building of weapons used to kill people without understanding much beyond the knowledge that America was our adversary in a war. To think that the weapon we made took your lives as you were out on a picnic! We were overwhelmed with deep sorrow. . . ."

Takeshita now had more detective work to do. Working from the list of names of the victims, he was able to track down the brother and sister of Dick and Joan Patzke, still living in Bly. Once again, not knowing if his concern would be interpreted as interference, he contacted Ed and Opal Patzke, and Dottie McGinnis.

The meeting was awkward at first, as meaningful meetings between strangers tend to be.

Takeshita, dressed in a suit, and his wife and 10-year-old daughter arrived at the Patzke house, a simple home on the main street of Bly.

Ed Patzke, 72, sat in his recliner as Takeshita knelt by him and spoke quietly. To ease the tension, Ed Patzke joked about Japanese cameras. Then he placed his large hand on Takeshita's slender arm. "We don't hold anything against you," he said.

A small caravan of cars followed Ed Patzke's pickup truck up a logging road onto Gearhart Mountain. They stopped at the site of the fatal picnic, an area that has been named the Mitchell Recreation Area after the Rev. Archie Mitchell. (The minister later remarried one of the older sisters of Joan and Dick Patzke and eventually disappeared while doing missionary work in Vietnam.)

There followed a ceremony in front of the stone monument that memorializes the Bly victims. Takeshita read the letters from the women in Japan, and his daughter, Junko, placed the heavy strings of confetti-colored paper cranes at the base of the monument.

The ceremony was a small thing in the context of a large and terrible war, Takeshita reflected, but, for him, something had been resolved this day.

The women in Japan had been allowed to apologize; the Patzkes had been given the chance to forgive. And in acting as the intermediary, Takeshita too felt relieved of some bitterness about his family's treatment during the war.

"I pray that someday there will never be any more war," said Dottie McGinnis as she stood in the clearing, the trees around her still scarred by shrapnel. "That's my prayer and my expectation."

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