April 18, 1945. It was a quiet spring night when a Japanese weapon of war made its way to the skies over the Omaha neighborhood of Dundee. Little did the residents know, but they were about to find themselves as a part of a war thousands of miles away.
Here they were, families outside together in their pajamas, wondering what that explosion was. Jim McGee of the Dundee-Memorial Park Neighborhood Association says neighbors would whisper and question, but no one knew for sure what had lit up the sky above 50th and Underwood. "All you could find out at the time was, there was chatter in the barbershops, in the beauty shops and in the neighborhood, but nobody knew. Nobody was told what they were."
It wasn't until after the fact that the U.S. government would acknowledge that a Japanese balloon carrying six bombs had made its way to Omaha, Nebraska. McGee says in his 30 years as a Dundee resident, he always thought the stories about the bombs were a myth. "I was kind of was led to believe this was an urban legend, or a non-serious incident, but this was a serious incident."
The bombs were, in fact, not myth. The Japanese had made about 10,000 of these 32 foot balloons, with about 400 of them making it to the continental United States. McGee says at the time, government officials kept the knowledge of the Japanese bombs under wraps. "The reason why we didn't know about it at the time, was because there was a campaign of silence. The government didn't want the Japanese to know any of these devices had made it across the ocean and into the interior of the United States. Perhaps one of the reasons was, was because we were building the very Martin bombers that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just south of Omaha in Bellevue."
Fortunately no one in Omaha was injured, but the same couldn't be said for a pregnant mother and her five children in Oregon. One of those very same Japanese balloons was successful in wiping out that entire family. Reports of balloon bomb incidents continued after the war, with the Beatrice Daily Sun reporting that the balloon bombs had landed in seven different Nebraska towns.
So although the corner of 50th and Underwood may now be known as the corner where business mogul Warren Buffett and musician Paul McCartney catch up over ice cream, that corner of Omaha has a much more interesting history.