Blog Oklahoma Podcast 054: The Bombing of Boise City

Posted on Sunday, September 17, 2017 05:54 PM

 

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In the wee hours of July 5th, 1943, it was like most nights in the sleepy little panhandle town of Boise City, Oklahoma. Most of the community had settled in for the night. Save for some people walking home from a movie theater, night watchmen making their rounds, or a few truck drivers having one more cup of coffee at the cafe before getting back on the road.

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Welcome to Boise City, Oklahoma. Located in the center of Cimarron county in the Oklahoma panhandle at the crossroads of U.S. 287 and U.S. 412. It's home to roughly 1,200 people and has the distinction of be the westernmost county seat in Oklahoma.

In the center of town in a square where Cimarron Ave. and Main St. meet is the Cimarron county courthouse. Itself an impressive looking building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now located across from the courthouse on the east side of the square you'll find the chamber of commerce. You really can't miss it since it's a bright red caboose. But what you could miss is the small monument in front of the caboose. It was placed there in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of one of the most unique bits of Oklahoma history.

July 5, 1943, The world was a war. A world away from Boise City, Oklahoma, Allied forces were in the final preparations for the invasion of Sicily. In eastern Europe the German army had begun their offensive on Kursk in Russia. Another world away U.S. and Japanese ships were steaming their way to the Solomon Islands.

The citizens of Boise City, like most Americans, followed news of the war, and were no strangers to the war effort. You see a mere forty miles south is Dalhart, Texas, home of the Dalhart Army Air Base. There they trained aircrews for the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator Heavy Bombers. On graduating these aircrews would often be sent to the European Theater of the war.

In the late hours of July 4th, 1943, crews at Dalhart Army Air Base took off in their B-17s on a simple night time training run to drop bombs at a bombing range some 20 miles to the northeast near Conlen, Texas. Their target was a small square area, lit by four lights at each corner.

Meanwhile to the north in Boise City the town had settled in for the night and turned off all the lights, save for the ones surrounding the courthouse square. Most of the residents had already gone to bed in the darkened town. There were a few still out. Night watchmen on their rounds, truck drivers at the cafe getting a cup of coffee and a sandwich before getting back on the road, and few young couples walking home from the movie theatre. It was like most any nights. That was until a few minutes past midnight.

The first bomb fell through the roof of a garage near Court Avenue and exploded, creating a four-foot deep hole in the floor. A second bomb fell short of the Baptist church, breaking out several windows.

Those who were out on the streets immediately dove for cover.

The county sheriff knew that some Dalhart trainees must have somehow gotten off course. He raced to the telephone office and called the base.

A third bomb fell in front of the Style Shoppe building between the sidewalk and the curb.

The tower at Dalhart Air Base called the plane’s radio operator and asked him to check with the navigator and bombardier to see if they knew where they were. And they replied that they were positive.

A fourth bomb hit near the McGowan Boardinghouse and narrowly missing a parked tanker truck full of fuel.

The truckers at the cafe hurriedly put down their coffee cups rushed out their trucks and drove out of town as fast as they could.

A fifth bomb hit some 80 feet from a small house and a the sixth bomb fell near the railroad tracks on the southeastern edge of town.

An employee of the electric company, realizing how the trainees had made a mistake, shut the power off, sending the entire town into darkness.

Either it was from the sudden blackout or from a radio message to the pilot, It was over.

Somehow, after leaving Dalhart Army Air Base, the navigator had made a 45-mile mistake and he mistook the lights surrounding the courthouse for the intended practice target.

Luckily no one was actually injured. And besides the garage and the church there were only a few deep craters left in the town.

Before it was all over the B-17 had made six passes over Boise City, dropping one bomb on each pass. The bombs were 100-pound practice explosives. Each bomb was filled with four pounds of explosive and ninety pounds of sand.

Needless to say the plane’s navigator was sacked, and the rest of the crew were given the choice of heading directly into combat or face court martial. The crew chose combat.

A little less than 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 crews of World War II. Oh and all of them survived the war.

Fifty years later the citizens of Boise City, Oklahoma placed a memorial consisting of a concrete replica of a crater with a 100-pound bomb sticking out of it. All of the surviving crew members of the ill-fated training mission were invited to the dedication ceremony, but they all refused, instead wanting to be remember their outstanding record in Europe rather than their blunder in the Oklahoma Panhandle. One crew member though did agree to tape a message and it was played during the ceremony. He blamed “motivation” as the cause of the accident and admitted the crew “screwed up,” but he added that the crew members spent the rest of their military careers being the best. **

( ** Information for this was taken from various articles, many are linked below. Credit goes to Wikipedia, Oklahoma Historical Society, Texas Historical Society, This Land Press, owlcation.com, and amusingplanet.com)

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