The Tiny Oklahoma Town That Was Bombed By Air During WWII
As it is the 78th anniversary of the WWII D-Day landings in Normandy, France, today is the most appropriate time to share the little-known story of the Oklahoma town bombed during the world's second great war.
Like most little sidenotes in history, the topic came up in a really random discussion one day over a meal. I have a cousin that grew up in the tiny little Oklahoma panhandle town of Boise City. When we were comparing notes on places we had lived, this one came up.
Boise City is the only American city that was bombed during the war.
Before you say it, I'll offer the disclaimer... Yes, Pearl Harbor and some of the surrounding areas of Honolulu were bombed too, but Hawaii wasn't a state yet. That being said, here's the tale of the only bombed US city during WWII.
It was after Pearl Harbor that America ramped up military spending and expansion. Knowing exactly what we had to do for Europe and the number of soldiers it was going to take, military installations popped up all over America to support the expanding air forces.
Because the air campaign would be so important to the war, small airfields and bases sprang up all over the region. Altus, Enid, Tinker, Woodward, Jet, Frederick, Burns Flat, Muscogee, and Ardmore all served the Army Air Corp. The US Navy even had small air bases in Clinton and Norman. These training facilities were located everywhere.
By the summer of 1943 Oklahoma was swept up in the war movement. Everyone was overwhelmingly supportive of this endeavor against tyranny... in for a penny, in for a pound. People all over the country rationed food, clothing, fuel, etc... as it was needed for the war effort. Most cities also observed blackout status so as to not be targeted by the Axis Powers in one of those daring nighttime bombing runs, even as far inland as Boise City.
Now if you've lived in a military town before, you're all too familiar with the phrase "Freedom Never Sleeps." In Lawton, "Home of the Field Artillery" it's not uncommon to hear the howitzers in the dead of night as our nation's military trains for whatever may come. Living near Altus, Tinker, or Vance AFB you'd get used to hearing planes at all hours of the night too because training happens around the clock because war does too.
It was a hot July evening in the summer of 1943 when the bellowing engines of a bomber came roaring over Boise City. It was just after midnight but there were people still eating in the diner on the square. As they enjoyed their food, the polite conversation was interrupted by the first explosion when a bomb crashed through the roof of a nearby garage leaving a decent crater in the floor of it.
Being a small town, this naturally stirred just about everyone from whatever they were doing to see what the commotion was all about. Right then, the plane came around for a second bombing run, dropping ordnance just close enough to the local church to blow out the windows.
When the people realized what was happening, they scurried as any normal human would. The truckers that were enjoying their meals at the local diner also sprang into action. One was hauling a load of munitions, the other a tanker of gasoline. The effect of one of those taking a hit was unimaginable. Thankfully, as the third bombing pass happened, both managed to get their loads far away without incident.
By this time, the Boise City air-warning officer in charge of sounding the air raid alarms realized what was happening. This wasn't Japan or Germany targeting the small rural community... it was America.
Just as the military built installations all over the small towns of Oklahoma, they did the same thing across Texas. Each base was relatively unique in what they trained pilots and personnel for, many US Army Air Corp bombardment groups were stationed at the Dalhart Army Air Base.
If Boise City were Lawton, Dalhart would be Wichita Falls... Both are about 50 miles apart straight North and South of each other.
By the time the bombing of Boise City was done, six bombs had been accidentally dropped on the town. A navigational mistake had been made during blackout conditions, and instead of dropping ordnance at the practice range about halfway between the two towns.
In a stroke of luck, the bombs were designated practice rounds. Instead of being packed with one hundred pounds of high explosives, each bomb contained four pounds of dynamite. While it was enough to kill people, amazingly nobody was hurt. The damage was limited to the garage and church there in Boise City.
When the assessment came the next day, the US Army insisted the damages were less than $25 to structures and a mild inconvenience to landscaping.
While it seems like a pretty big screwup, all is not lost. The exact same B-17 crew that accidentally bombed Boise City ended up leading an 800-plane daylight bombing run over Berlin just a year later. According to local lore, all ten men survived the war, becoming some of the highest decorated Air Corp crews by Victory in Europe Day.
Moral of the story... Don't let your biggest mistakes keep you from achieving your life goals. If the same crew that bombed their own American people can go down as some of the most decorated in the service, you can overcome adversity too.