September 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha suburb of Dundee didn’t expect an enemy attack during World War II. Bombs weren’t reaching the U.S. heartland in 1945.

That’s why many thought of fireworks when a loud boom and a flash of light appeared in the sky over 50th and Underwood Streets the night of April 18. A few bleary-eyed residents ran outside in their pajamas. Seeing nothing threatening, they went back to bed.

Word soon got out that the explosion that jolted the neighborhood out of bed was caused by an incendiary device that had floated from Japan by balloon.

Hal Capps was 10 years old when the bomb went off. He remembers his father arriving home from his job at the Buffett grocery store in Dundee and saying: “Something happened in the neighborhood last night, but they’re not talking about it.”

Americans were asked to be mum about the bombings. “They didn’t want the Japanese to know how far inland the balloon had come,” says Capps.

Residents in the suburb that was annexed by Omaha in 1915—against their will— had other things to talk about at that time. Dundee and the rest of America was still mourning the April 12 death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Churchgoers were in the pews at the then-new Saint Margaret Mary Catholic Church or at Dundee Presbyterian, founded in 1901.

They were greeted by name at the grocery store founded in 1869 by Warren Buffett’s great-grandfather Sidney. In 1915, Warren’s grandfather Ernest moved the store to 5015 Underwood where the Dundee Bank now sits.

They saw movies at the Dundee Theater featuring local boys—such as The Ox-Bow Incident starring Henry Fonda, who grew up in Dundee before achieving movie stardom. Or maybe they saw Yolanda and the Thief starring Fred Astaire, who was also born in Omaha.

Signs of World War II were ever present. Dundee women collected tin cans for the war effort. Victory gardens were planted.

But then in August of 1945, the Enola Gay—a B29 bomber built at the Martin bomber plant near Omaha—dropped its atomic payload on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, 

Nagasaki was bombed. Japan surrendered, ending World War II.

People in Dundee no longer had to whisper. The balloon bomb story was now public.

The bombing of Dundee was not forgotten. The Dundee-Memorial Park Association put up a plaque in 1992 on a building near the southwest corner of 50th and Underwood Streets that begins: “Dundee Bombed in World War II.”

What it doesn’t say is that the Japanese balloon bombs were indeed (insert chuckle here) “bombs.”  Of the few Japanese balloon bombs that actually reached the United States out of thousands launched, only one caused deaths; a woman and five children were killed in Oregon.

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