March is an important historical designator in the past of South Hill. During this month some 73 years ago, at least two significant events took place.
It was one of those rare times when citizens of the United States have come under aerial attack within their continental borders. It happened in March 1945, near the end of World War II, as the result of a bombing campaign by the armed forces of Japan in a program known as Fu-Go, or balloon bombing.
Two balloon-borne bombs are known to have struck on the hill. While balloon bombs landed in other places during the same period, these were the only ones locally.
One hit on March 3, 1945, on George Barlow’s farm. Using today’s terminology, it came down a bit west of 94th Avenue at about 134th Street. The Church of the Latter-day Saints now sits just a short distance east of the impact point. At that time, 94th Avenue was known as Odens Road.
In 1945, the Parks family lived near the impact point, and several members of the family still live nearby. Joan Parks Vosler, who just turned 81, remembers the event well. She was 13 at the time.
Her sister, Carol Parks Smith, now 83, supports Joan’s memory. They recall that the bomb landed in the late morning.
Vosler is still certain she witnessed it coming down. Both sisters remember climbing up an embankment at about 94th Avenue and 128th Street and looking south toward the crash point. They could clearly see the white color of the balloon.
Their brother, Orin Parks, actually climbed under a fence and went toward the device but was warned to stay away.
Sometime thereafter, a contingent of army troops arrived and walked across the ground, all in a line, at an arm’s length apart. All fragments of the device were picked up and carted away.
So far as is known, there were no injuries associated with the event.
Less is known about the landing of the other bomb. In fact, federal records do not show two bombs striking the hill. We know, however, that an additional one did hit as parts of it were collected and are still in the possession of a local family.
The other bomb landed on the so-called Massie Farm on March 1, 1945. According to family records, Charles Anion Massie, a local farmer, found it in his apple orchard on that date. His farm was located near present-day Pope Elementary School.
Massie pulled the balloon from an apple tree, cut it apart and gave fragments to each of his children.
In 2003, his son, Arthur, brought his piece to a meeting of the South Hill Historical Society. Arthur Massie has since passed away, but the balloon scrap is still in family hands.
So far as is known, there were no witnesses to that landing, and no response from military authorities.Carl Vest, Ph.D., is the research director for the South Hill Historical Society. He is a founding member of the society and can be reached by email at email@example.com.