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The WWII Bombing of Boise City in Oklahoma

Updated on May 09, 2016

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.

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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

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

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

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

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 6 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.

    • Barry Wah Lee profile image

      Barry Wah Lee 6 years ago from Auckland

      my kind of story

    • RunAbstract profile image

      RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

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

    • ruben 4 years ago

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

    • bob higgs 3 years ago

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

    • Garth Walters profile image

      Garth Walters 3 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.

    • Urbane Chaos profile image
      Author

      Urbane Chaos 3 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!

    • Arco Hess Designs profile image

      Arco Hess 2 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.

    • L D 2 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

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 2 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.

    • Thomasjames1992 profile image

      Thomas James 23 months ago from London

      Top hub! I love reading about WW2

    • traveleze profile image

      Lee John 23 months ago from Preston

      great hub!

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 23 months ago from Tennessee, United States

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

    • kelvinmm profile image

      kelvinmm 23 months ago

      great hub!!!

    • Susan Trump profile image

      Susan Trump 23 months ago from San Diego, California

      who knew? thanks

    • alan raj profile image

      Alan Cherian Rajan 23 months ago from Kanjirappally

      truly helpful...

    • Unlimited11-11 profile image

      Tom McHugh 23 months ago from Lake Champlain, Vermont, USA

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

    • areaseoku profile image

      Areaseoku 22 months ago from Yogyakarta

      greatt hubb

    • James Peters profile image

      James Timothy Peters 22 months ago from Hammond, Indiana

      Totally an awesome Hub.

      Thank you!

    • Lee Cloak 22 months ago

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

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 22 months 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

    • Nita Campbell 5 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.,

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