Triplicate staff

During the early days of World War II, Del Norte County's prevailing winds helped to bring crude weapons to this area and beyond.

Called free balloons, their bags measured about 33 1/2 feet in diameter, and held various mechanisms and a load of between 25-65 pounds of incendiary and anti-personnel bombs.

The balloons were fabricated from hundreds of small pieces of paper made by Japanese school children and shipped to a central assembly place for reshipment to a factory for completion.

Redwood State and National Parks history Web site describes them as andquot;Japan's Vi,andquot; referring to the 1942 German flying bomb launched from a fixed ramp and traveling at about 350 mph and 4,000 feet.

The jet stream winds carried the balloons across the Pacific in about four days. The first was recovered from the ocean off the coast of San Pedro. In all, about 90 of the free balloons were recovered on the continental United States.

They went into history as a failed weapon, however, because they started no forest fires and did almost no damage - with one tragic exception.

The only casualties were in central Oregon's Paiute County town of Bly, when a woman and five children on a Sunday School picnic found and tried to disassemble one of the bombs.

But the free balloons and continuing war prompted the fortification of beach patrols in Del Norte County as well as other Pacific Coast communities.

The U.S. Coast Guard established a camp near the Klamath River's mouth. Its observation station was built of cinder blocks and made to look like a farmhouse with barns and outbuildings.

Men stationed there recruited civilian volunteers who stood watch and patrolled the beach to relieve the Coast Guard's personnel and freeing them for oversees duty.