Chinese spy balloon sparks memories of Japanese balloon bombs during WWII

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 7:38 PM CST
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WARSAW, N.D. (KFYR) - The Chinese spy balloon isn’t the first to cause a stir in the Upper Midwest. The Japanese used the jet stream to send a barrage of air balloon weapons across the United States during World War II simply to cause havoc wherever they landed.

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church has been the center of the town of Warsaw, North Dakota for more than 120 years. Today, people in the rural community still talk about something extraordinary they saw after leaving Mass in March 1945. Herold Grabinski says he was only about 10 years old when he was leaving St. Stanislaus and recalls the excitement he felt as his dad followed the path of a huge balloon.

“Because I know, the kids, we were sitting in the backseat, and we were so darn inquisitive, we were trying to jump in front. My dad I remember telling us, ‘Get back, get back,’ but we were so excited. I’ll never forget that… I’ll never forget it,” said Grabinski.

The United States was already more than three years into fighting World War II, and this incident in a sleepy prairie town brought the war to North Dakota’s doorstep.

“But having this kind of thing happen in this area, it kind of brought home what was going on to some of the people who felt like, we’re in the center of the nation, nothing can really happen to us. And then this comes down and it kind of woke people up, you could say,” said Shannon Brazil, co-curator of the Walsh County Museum.

Herold recalls the magnitude of seeing the balloon slowly fall to the ground 70 years ago, almost holding their breath as it inched closer to the ground.

“But I remember when it landed into that yard, that’s the first thing everybody thought, I wonder if it’s going to explode,” said Grabinski.

Last week, as he saw reports of the Chinese spy balloon over Montana, his memory went back to that field in Pulaski Township, North Dakota, and his reaction was much different.

“But people out here don’t get too excited I think,” said Grabinski.

According to Brazil, back in 1945, curious Walsh County residents were stopped by the police, Air Force personnel and the FBI before they could get too close to the weapon. It was dismantled and taken away for research.

The Japanese sent more than 9,000 balloon bombs across the Pacific Ocean during World War II — the deadliest one landed and exploded in Oregon and killed six people.