Tag Archives: Alaska

Fu-Go, or How Geologists Fought off the Japanese Attack on North America, although the Threat Remains

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumy, British Columbia.

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumby, British Columbia. This photograph is courtesy of Infonews.ca, which published a story about the bomb on October 10, 2014.

On November 3, 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army attacked North America, and they did it from three Honshu beachheads. It was on that date that the first of some 9,000 balloons, fitted with incendiary and high explosive bombs on a three-day timer, were lofted into the recently-discovered jet stream. The innovative form of aggression spread dangerous explosives across a huge swath of North American territory, from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific Coast to Detroit, Michigan. Fewer than 250 of these balloons have been accounted for, although an estimated 1,ooo balloons may have made it across the Pacific. While most of the 9,000 probably failed to reach American shores, those that made the crossing and went undiscovered might still pose risks to the unsuspecting.

Foresters working near Lumby, British Columbia, made the most recent discovery of unexploded Japanese bombs in October of last year. Hikers and people who work in wild places should be wary of undiscovered explosives from these balloons.

When Japanese balloon bombs, known as Fu-Go to their makers, first began to arrive in America, authorities mistakenly thought that the devices were being launched from submarines surfacing near our coasts or that they had been built in Prisoner-of-War camps along the coast. Continue reading

A Train Ride to Eternity

This article is full of mistaken assumptions, a lesson waiting for recovery beneath the ice of ignorance. For instance, I always assumed that Stevens Pass was named by good old George McClellan, as if he took time out from his trout fishing ever to really explore ways to get across the Cascades when Washington Territory’s first governor (and railroad route scout), Isaac Stevens, ordered him into them hills to locate a pass for a railroad to use. (By the way, if you’re interested in what the fishing was like around Yakima in the 1850s, McClellan’s journal will tell you. McClellan never got far. He glanced at the frowning cliffs above the Tieton River and turned around, reporting that a pass didn’t exist.) I started the article by claiming that a plaque memorialized the Reverend James M. Thomson in the basement Scout Room of St. James Presbyterian Church in Bellingham, Washington. But in a fact checking expedition this weekend, I discovered that I was mistaken: no such plaque exists. Now, I wonder why.

A grainy portrait of Reverend James M. Thomson was found in the 1909 history of the local Presbyterian Synod.

James Thomson was not a Boy Scout, and the Stevens for whom the pass was named was a railroad surveyor working for entrepreneur James J. Hill, whose Great Northern Railroad fearlessly scraped out a series of  switchbacks on the faces of seemingly impassible peaks. A bit of fear might have been in order. Continue reading