The WWII Bombing of Boise City in Oklahoma

Updated on December 12, 2017

Boise City: A Small Town in Oklahoma that has an Explosive Claim to Fame

It all began on July 5, 1943. At the other end 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 Nazi's had begin 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 of 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 crewmembers 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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2010 Eric Standridge

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      • profile image

        Hannah 

        5 weeks ago

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

      • profile image

        Allen Atkins 

        5 weeks ago

        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 profile image

        Don Rhudy 

        7 months ago from Monrovia, Indiana

        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!

      • profile image

        David M. Thrash 

        15 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Nita Campbell 

        23 months ago

        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.,

      • profile image

        gueceAddile 

        2 years ago

        I’d like to write like this too

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        3 years ago from sunny Florida

        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

      • profile image

        Lee Cloak 

        3 years ago

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

      • James Peters profile image

        James Timothy Peters 

        3 years ago from Hammond, Indiana

        Totally an awesome Hub.

        Thank you!

      • areaseoku profile image

        Areaseoku 

        3 years ago from Yogyakarta

        greatt hubb

      • Unlimited11-11 profile image

        Tom McHugh 

        3 years ago from Lake Champlain, Vermont, USA

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

      • alan raj profile image

        Alan Cherian Rajan 

        3 years ago from Kanjirappally

        truly helpful...

      • Susan Trump profile image

        Susan Trump 

        3 years ago from San Diego, California

        who knew? thanks

      • kelvinmm profile image

        kelvinmm 

        3 years ago

        great hub!!!

      • melissae1963 profile image

        Melissa Reese Etheridge 

        3 years ago from Tennessee, United States

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

      • traveleze profile image

        Lee John 

        3 years ago from Preston

        great hub!

      • Thomasjames1992 profile image

        Thomas James 

        3 years ago from London

        Top hub! I love reading about WW2

      • Hendrika profile image

        Hendrika 

        3 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

        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.

      • profile image

        L D 

        3 years ago

        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 Designs profile image

        Arco Hess 

        3 years ago from Kansas City, Kansas

        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.

      • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Standridge 

        4 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma

        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 profile image

        Garth Walters 

        4 years ago from Salem, Indiana

        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.

      • profile image

        bob higgs 

        5 years ago

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

      • profile image

        ruben 

        6 years ago

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

      • RunAbstract profile image

        RunAbstract 

        8 years ago from USA

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

      • Barry Wah Lee profile image

        Barry Wah Lee 

        8 years ago from Auckland

        my kind of story

      • 2patricias profile image

        2patricias 

        8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

        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.

      • tonymac04 profile image

        Tony McGregor 

        8 years ago from South Africa

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

        Love and peace

        Tony

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        8 years ago

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

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