Feature

A Thousand Cranes

Foundations

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On Gearhart Mountain, outside the small town of Bly, Oregon, stands the Mitchell Monument, a memorial to the only civilians killed by enemy actions in the continental United States during World War II. The six fatalities were five junior highers from the local Alliance church, pastored by Rev. Archie Mitchell, and Archie’s wife, Elyse (aka, Elsie), a teacher, who was five months pregnant with their first child.

U.S. Army photo A 37180C. Public Domain.
On May 5, 1945, the group planned a fun-filled picnic, with the boys and their pastor trying their hand at fishing while Elyse and the lone girl on the trip, Joan Patzke, planned to pass the time in conversation or short walks. Archie pulled the car over near a logging crew working by the road, and Elyse, Joan, and the four boys—Jay Gifford, Edward Engen, Sherman Shoemaker, and Dick Patzke—headed into the brush.

“Look what I found, dear,” Elyse called out. Richard Barnhouse, the loggers’ foreman, recalled hearing a loud explosion. Archie and the crew raced to the scene and found Elyse and the boys dead, their bodies strewn around a foot-deep hole. Joan, severely injured, died within minutes.

The picnickers had happened upon a Fu-Go, or fire balloon, that had drifted from Japan. Made by schoolchildren, Fu-Gos were designed to be carried on the jet stream to North America, where they would drop explosives or incendiary devises. Though more than 300 such balloons made it to North America, the five young Alliance teens and their pastor’s wife were the only casualties.

After the war, Archie married Joan and Dick’s older sister, Betty. They served as Alliance missionaries to Vietnam, where on May 30, 1962, Archie was taken by the Vietcong from the Banmethuot Leprosarium, along with fellow Alliance worker Dr. Ardel Vietti and Dan Gerber from the Mennonite Central Committee. The three were never heard from again.

In the 1980s, a delegation of the Japanese schoolchildren, now adults, who had helped to build the Fu-Gos sent a thousand paper cranes, a symbol of healing, to the families of the bomb’s victims. In 1995, six cherry trees shipped from Japan were planted in Bly to honor each of those killed.

—Melinda Smith Lane, from various sources

2 responses to A Thousand Cranes

  1. And the 5mo baby in the womb instantely went to heaven along with the wife & youth group. Joan soon joined them. Although, Sadness for the pastor & affected families.
    What an awesome care support of compassion years later.

  2. Thank you for this long view of life and healing, a reminder that God doesn’t sleep or slumber but continues to work for our good and breathe life where there is death.

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