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The WWII Bombing of Boise City in Oklahoma

Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.

Boise City: A Small Oklahoman Town With an Explosive Claim to Fame

It all began on July 5, 1943. On the other side of the world, the United States was involved in a bitter war against the Axis forces. The Axis forces wanted to control Europe and the Pacific, while the Allies fought for peace. The Nazis had begun their last offensive against Kursk, and the Australian and U.S. Army forces under General MacArthur were struggling to fight back the Japanese at Buna in New Guinea.

B-17 "Flying Fortress"

B-17 "Flying Fortress"

While the citizens of Boise City followed the news closely, pilots at Dalhart Army Air Base in Texas were preparing four B-17 bombers for a practice run. The nighttime training mission was to begin a few hours after dark. The navigator was supposed to lead the flight group from Dalhart base to drop bombs in a range near Conlen, Texas. The target was a small square area, lit by four lights at each corner. It was supposed to be a simple mission, but somehow, something went horribly wrong.

Late in the evening, the training mission began as scheduled. The young navigator felt confident in his abilities, and the pilots were well prepared. The roar of the B-17’s engines was deafening as they took to the sky. Everyone expected the training mission would be a success.

Thirty miles to the north, most of the 1,200 residents of Boise City had already gone to bed. Most of the lights of the small town had been shut off, with an exception of the lights that surrounded the courthouse square. The small city seemed deserted, except for a small café and a few young couples walking home after leaving the local movie theater. At the café, several truck drivers calmly chatted with one another while eating their midnight dinners.

Boise City Bomb landmark in Boise City

Boise City Bomb landmark in Boise City

This is a practice bomb such as the ones dropped on Boise City during WW II military training

This is a practice bomb such as the ones dropped on Boise City during WW II military training

It was just after midnight when all hell broke loose in this sleepy little town. The explosions weren’t particularly loud, but they were loud enough to wake most, if not all, of the 1,200 people in Boise City.

The air raid continued for thirty long minutes as the townspeople rushed for cover. The first bomb thundered through the roof of a garage and exploded, digging a four-foot-deep hole in the floor. The B-17 made another pass and dropped a second bomb that struck the white-framed Baptist church, exploding beside the building and breaking out several windows. The crater was three feet deep.

The driver of a munitions truck parked on the square quickly dropped everything and rushed from the café, rapidly driving his rig away.

After the first bomb fell, the town’s air warning office, John Adkins, phoned the FBI in Oklahoma and sent the Adjutant General a cool wire: “Boise City bombed one A.M. Baptist Church, garage hit.”

The third bomb struck between the sidewalk and curb in front of the Style Shoppe Building, just a few feet away from where the driver of a gasoline tanker was rushing to get out of the city.

The fourth bomb also came close to striking a parked fuel transport truck, striking the ground and exploding only yards from the McGowan Boarding House.

Frank Garrett, the light and power man for Boise City, sprinted for the Southwestern Public Service building and yanked down hard on the town’s master light switch. Almost immediately, the town was thrust into complete darkness. The only lights that could be seen were from the remaining two bombs as they struck the ground and set off small explosions.

Either the blackout or a radio message to the pilot in response to Adkins’ wire caused the navigator to realize his almost fatal mistake. Somehow, after leaving the Dalhart base, the young navigator had made a 45-mile mistake: he mistook the four lights centered on Boise City’s main square for the intended practice target. After realizing his error, the pilots quickly departed back to Dalhart, Texas.

While the bombing left numerous craters in the town, no one was actually injured. The bombs were 100-pound practice explosives. Each bomb was filled with four pounds of dynamite and ninety pounds of sand. There was no damage besides the garage and the church, and a few deep craters in the city.

This accidental bombing made Boise City famous; it is the only continental American town to be bombed during World War II. The estimated property damage to the city? Less than $25.

A year after the misguided bombing of Boise City, the same bomber crew led an 800-plane daylight raid on Berlin and became one of the most decorated of World War II. All of the crew members survived the war and went on to tell stories about their slightly misguided raid on a small Oklahoma town. In fact, one crewmember even went on to marry a Boise City Girl.

© 2010 Eric Standridge


Robert J. on January 27, 2019:

I'm envisioning people running all over town hollering "What did we do? What did we do?"

Hannah on June 12, 2018:

Does anyone happen to know what bomb group this crew served with?

Allen Atkins on June 11, 2018:

The man that phoned in the report, John Atkins was my grandfather.At the Air Base the put up a sign in the mess hall. Remember the Alamo!

Remember Pearl Harbor! But for god's sake,REMEMBER BOISE CITY!

Don Rhudy from Monrovia, Indiana on December 20, 2017:

I remember that night well, and after that playing in the bomb craters. I was five years old, about to be six in August, ready to begin first grade. We lived on the northeast corner of Main and Ellis, with only one building across from us to the west---an old service station in which a woman named Phillips lived with her son, Dick, a playmate my age. We were awakened by a bomb that landed not far north from our house and beyond the cowshed, where we kept a milk cow. I recall my dad standing at the back door, framed in moonlight. "Well, Gawdamn, Irene," he said. "They're a-bombing us." My dad, Lee Rhudy, had a scrap yard to our east that ran east to the ditch, where there still is a bridge and wide spot on Main Street.

A friend of mine who was a young woman in her early twenties then and still lives is Ethel Outhier, living in a retirement home in Oklahoma. She had a corner office in the courthouse. One of the bombs took out a corner of her office. Another "survivor" was Myrna (Ohnick) Lawrence-Vanderburg who was a year younger than I and now lives in Oklahoma City. She recalls the bombing well, too.

I have read that the bombardier was punished and removed from that crew, and that the crew was sent to England the very next week. It's great that they survived and were all decorated. What a great shame the nation is not united in the way it was in 1943!

David M. Thrash on April 25, 2017:

Yes I, Remember the bomb I was 7 years old and live about 2 miles south of town the bomb hit on the west end of the Baptist Church, also several holes in the streets, thank God they missed there target the Court House.

Nita Campbell on August 05, 2016:

My father, Austin Finley, flew a training mission from Walla Walla, Washington. Thee fueler did not fuel both tanks. The plane crashed near Boise in March of 42. They parachuted out landing on separate forks of the Salmon River . My dad saved all but one. Mercy Flyer Penn Stohr helped find them. My dad rewired a telephone and broke into a conversation to call for help. They survived 7 days in a ranger cabin eating peanut butter.,

gueceAddile on November 26, 2015:

I’d like to write like this too

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 14, 2015:

What a different ending that night time raid could have had!! How wonderful that no one was hurt. And, then the crew went on to be one of the most decorated during the War. It turned out well.

Why did we not read about this in my high school history textbook?

Thanks for sharing Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Lee Cloak on March 14, 2015:

Very interesting hub, a really great read, well done, thanks!

James Timothy Peters from Hammond, Indiana on March 05, 2015:

Totally an awesome Hub.

Thank you!

Areaseoku from Yogyakarta on March 05, 2015:

greatt hubb

Tom McHugh from Lake Champlain, Vermont, USA on March 05, 2015:

Great story; I never heard of this before. Thanks you for sharing.

Alan Cherian Rajan from Kerala, India on March 05, 2015:

truly helpful...

Susan Trump from San Diego, California on March 04, 2015:

who knew? thanks

kelvinmm on March 04, 2015:

great hub!!!

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on March 03, 2015:

This is such an interesting Hub. I can't wait to share it with my history buff pals.

Lee John from Preston on March 03, 2015:

great hub!

Thomas James from London on February 20, 2015:

Top hub! I love reading about WW2

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on November 29, 2014:

It is scary how fast things can go wrong. That poor navigator! He must have felt bad enough, so firing him seems unnecessary, he would never have made such a mistake again.

L D on November 27, 2014:

Hope, New Mexico had the same experience except they were the victims of several off-course B-25 crews. Bombs landed down the middle of Main Street

Arco Hess from Kansas City, Kansas on October 07, 2014:

That's very interesting. I've heard stories about some of the WWII mishaps but never heard of this. My husband's grandfather was stationed near there for most of the war and he never mentioned it.

Eric Standridge (author) from Oklahoma on December 07, 2013:

Garth, now that's something I didn't know! I thought that Oklahoma was the only one to be bombed during WWII by our own, but looks like that's not the case. I'll have to look that up!

Garth Walters from Salem, Indiana on December 06, 2013:

The notion that this is the ONLY place in continental America during WWII that was bombed is not true. It may have been the only place in America bombed accidentally by our planes but there are two recorded bombings in Oregon by the Japanese.

One was in Brookings, OR by plane(s) on September 9, 1942 and the other on May 5, 1945 by bombs from a balloon which crossed the Pacific ocean and did cause causalities near Mountain, OR.

bob higgs on July 12, 2013:

oops..... never let it be said hat nothing interesting ever happens in Oklahoma.

ruben on July 08, 2012:

damage $25.oo huh?Ill bet if it happened today exactly the same way, the damage would be in the millions.

RunAbstract from USA on June 20, 2010:

I love a crazy true story! I'll be back to read more of your articles.

Barry Wah Lee from Auckland on February 15, 2010:

my kind of story

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on February 05, 2010:

Never knew that! It must have been terrifying for those involved. You have written a very dramatic account of what could have been a tragic mistake.

Thanks for an interesting hub.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on February 04, 2010:

What a bizarre story! Wonderful stuff, well written and researhced!

Love and peace


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 03, 2010:

I never knew that happened to Boise. How awful for the people in the area. Interesting hub.