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South Hill was once
a bomb target

By Jerry Bates

bomb illustration
Artist rendering of Japanese
balloon bomb descending on
South Hill

It is not well known, but during World War II South Hill was at the receiving end of Japanese balloon bombs.  This was a plan to start massive forrest fires and disrupt our war effort on the West Coast of the United States.

Aerial balloons carried the actual bombs.  Those devices were launched in Japan and traveled to this country on the great prevailing west-to-east wind currents at high altitudes, which we now call the Jet Stream.  Timers and barometric switches determined when the balloon would descend and actually explode.  Altogether it is estimated that 7,000 balloons were launched, with some 25 hits actually recorded in Washington State.  In total, the impact points were scattered all over the West Coast of the US and Canada, and a few went to the east as far as Michigan.

Federal records show that a bomb impacted South Hill on March 3, 1945.  It is the only one for South Hill listed in the National Archives database. Present-day local people who lived on the Hill at that time, however, insist that there were at least two bombings.

In March 1945 members of the Parks family, residents on 128th Street since the early days, recall a bomb landing near the intersection of present-day 94th Avenue and 128th Street, near the current Rogers High School.  Several family members who are still living have described witnessing the landing and/or hearing the sound when it hit.  Other than their memory, however, there is no physical evidence from this bombing.  And, due to wartime censorship there are no newspaper articles about the incident.  This event is probably the March 3, 1945 bomb listed in the Federal records.  Members of the Parks family remember that soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis spent some time at the site, and, as they recall, searched for several days for fragments from the bomb and its delivery vehicle.

Another family living on South Hill at the time has also recorded that a bomb landed near their home.  Actually it hit in an orchard on the Massie family farm.  Their location was several miles south of the Parks family residence, near what is now the Pierce County Airport (Thun Field).  The Massies have some physical evidence preserved from this happening.  The bomb must not have exploded since Mr. Massie proceeded to cut the paper balloon into pieces and save the scraps as souvenirs.  Additionally, he recorded the landing as March 1, 1945, a day different from the one in the National Archives records.  He made this hand-written note about the date at the same time that he cut up the balloon.  Before he passed away Mr. Art Massie shared both these items with members of the South Hill Historical Society.  For some reason this incident did not make it into the Federal database.

So the residents of South Hill during WWII experienced some wartime stresses--namely, incoming enemy explosives hitting nearby.  And to many who have come to the area since then, these accounts by the old timers offer a very unique story of the wartime era on South Hill.