Historical Note: On April 18, 1942 Allied bombers dropped their deadly cargo over Tokyo. Seeking a means of direct reprisal against the U.S. mainland, the Japanese military developed a simple, silent, and potentially devastating weapon commonly known as the Japanese Balloon Bomb. Beginning November 3, 1944, approximately 9000 balloons made of paper or rubberized silk and carrying anti-personnel and incendiary bombs were launch into the high altitude winds of the Pacific Ocean. As many as 1000 of these balloons reached North American - spreading across Canada, United States and Mexico from the Pacific coast to as far inland as the Great Lakes. Intent on denying the Japanese any information regarding the success of the launches and in hope of preventing public panic, the US. goverment maintained a policy of silence despite nearly 300 reported incidents involving these bombs. Discouraged by the apparent failure, the Japanese ceased the offensive in April of 1945. There remain, however, hundreds of bombs scattered across the continent waiting in deathly stillness for an unsuspecting hand to wake them from their slumber.
Zeke Anderson stood statuesquely amongst the tall pines, his face tilted towards the sky, and watched as the warm breeze inched the puffy clouds across the sky. The last of the wispy tendrils fled behind the crowns of the surrounding trees, and Zeke closed his eyes as he filled his lungs with cool mountain air. He listened to the soft patter of little creatures foraging through the fallen pine needles and the happy twittering of birds hidden somewhere in branches above him. It seemed as if there were nothing more in the world than this tiny piece of heaven.
Zeke sighed as he found his thoughts wandering in the direction of his future. Sister Agnes had been very patient, but every now and then, she'd tell him about a job somewhere that he might find interesting. Lately she seemed to think he might enjoy a life in the Army - it had been coming up more and more often in the past few weeks. She would tell him about all the different parts of the world he might see and all the adventures he might have. Zeke wasn't so sure he wanted to see the world and live a life of adventre, he kinda liked the idea of settling down with a nice home full of little ones to take care of .
The orphanage wasn't really a home. Often there wasn't enough attention to go around, and the kids like him that didn't cause trouble tended to be on the short end of the receiving stick. That was all right, he didn't need much attention. It was enough for him to just feel like he mattered, and the past few years he'd begun to feel more and more important around the place. There were always chores that needed to be done and kids that needed more attention than the Sisters had time to give. Zeke was good at taking care of all the little, unnoticed problems. Still, it was time to find himself a place that he could call home. In a few weeks he'd be eighteen, and no longer the Sisters' responsibility. Zeke knew that it was time to make a decision about his future, he just couldn't figure out what he wanted to do. Not long ago, he'd would have been eager to join the Army. His country had been at war and it needed soldiers, but now the world was at peace He could still become a soldier, but he wouldn't be doing any important. Whatever his future held, he wanted his life to make the world better somehow, like he hoped he made the other orphans lives a little better.
Taking another deep breath, he began to walk. He was supposed to be looking for firewood, so he'd better return to camp with some. Zeke smiled as he thought about all the little faces that would be huddled around the
fire, roasting marshmallows and telling stories. Man, he loved those little faces. It seemed like a smile or a laugh from one of the kids could make his whole week. He didn't like to think about how lonely it was going to be when they weren't around anymore.
The little voice shouting in the distance yanked him out of his reverie. He looked around to find its source and spotted Tommy running towards him. The seven-year old's face radiated excitement, and Zeke wondered what sort of mischief he and his pals had gotten into.
"Zeke! Come see what we've found," Tommy blurted.
Zeke smiled patiently at the little boy as Tommy grabbed his arm and began leading him. Tommy pulled him along until they were just beyond sight of where Zeke had been, then the excitement grew too much for the little boy. Releasing his hold on Zeke's arm, he ran the last dozen feet. Zeke followed at a leisurely pace, equally torn by curiosity to see what had the child so excited and the desire to set a good example by staying calm. He could see a small group of children huddled around...something. Tommy joined them, bouncing around excitedly as he pointed out that he'd accomplished his mission and brought Zeke back with him. The group split apart as Zeke's long strides quickly brought him the last few feet, and he looked down at the object of their attention - a long, black cylinder. It was pretty harmless looking, but he found his muscles tensing as he struggled to put a name on the vaguely familiar object.
"What is it?" Tommy asked, figuring seventeen was old enough to know just about everything. His face wrinkled into a look of annoyance as Zeke shrugged his shoulders.
"NO! Don't touch it!" Zeke shouted as Tommy moved towards the object to investigate it closer. Zeke didn't know for sure what "it" was, but he'd finally figured why it looked familiar. It resembled the bombs that he seen in the news reels during the War.
"Go find Father Mike and tell him to bring a Park Ranger," Zeke instructed Tommy. The little boy looked up at him disgusted, obviously not particularly inclined to share the amazing treasure with any real-grown up.
"Go!" Zeke ordered forcefully, giving the child a stern look. "And the rest of you better get back to camp, too."
Ignoring the group moan, Zeke raised his arm and pointed in the direction that he wanted them to go. One by one, the children reluctantly moped away. Waiting until they were all out of sight, Zeke turned back towards the mysterious cylinder and studied it. Soft footsteps crept up behind him, ducking behind the trees as he suddenly turned.
"I said back to camp. NOW!" Zeke shouted admonishingly, only barely able to stiffle a smile as a trio of disappointed faces peaked out from their hiding places trying to catch one last glimpse of their lost treasure. He couldn't really blame them for trying to sneak back for another look. Not so long ago, he'd have led the adventuresome instead of ruining their fun.
Watching the trio slink away, Zeke chuckled as he leaned against a nearby tree. His mind mulled over all the chores he needed to get done back at the orphanage. Soon he found himself distracted by the discomfort caused by his tree. It occurred to him that he'd chosen about the most uncomfortable tree in the forest as he found himself constantly shifting positions. Man, it seemed like Tommy had left hours ago to find Father Mike. Zeke reasoned that it probably hadn't really been that long, it was just seemed that way because guarding his "bomb" was so boring. Pushing himself away from his tree, he stretched his stiff muscles and moved nearer to the cylinder. It was starting to seem silly to be worrying so much about such a harmless looking something or other. The temptation to take a closer look began to tickle at his curiosity. Zeke took a couple steps towards the "thing" and crouched. Rocking back and forth on his feet, he guiltily peeked over his shoulder before reaching out to touch....
"Yeah, it's a good thing none of your kids messed with the thing, Father," the Park Ranger informed Father Mike as they walked towards Zeke and his "bomb."
"What exactly is it that the boys found?" Father Mike inquired.
Busy conversing with each other, neither man had looked in Zeke's direction yet. He quickly stood and moved back to his tree. Waiting for the men to be near enough to take notice of him, he strained to overhear their conversation.
"Well, we're not supposed to let the word get out about these things. You know public panic and all that, but I guess where you're a man of God and all," the Park Ranger hesitated for a moment, then continued, "those damned Japs floated a bunch of these incendiary bombs clear over the ocean on balloons. Rigged em up to drop in the forest like this and start the whole blasted thing on fire. Guess they figured they could keep us all so busy fighting the fires, we wouldn't have anybody left to fight them. Didn't work out quite like they planned."
The Park Ranger smirked as Father Mike blanched. Still unnoticed by the oncoming men, Zeke also paled. A few of his friends had turned eighteen in time to go fight, but otherwise the War had never really touched home for him. Sure the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, but that was an island way out in the Pacific ocean. It wasn't like anyone could really attack the United States - at least, that was what he'd always believed.
"Yeah, didn't do as much damage as they'd hoped. Sure has been a mess cleaning up the ones like this," the Park Ranger rambled on. "Slightest little movement can set em off, you know."
Zeke stomach clenched tighter and he felt a little wave of nausea wash over him as his imagination played images of the kids' burned, broken bodies scattered around him. Suddenly his tiny piece of heaven didn't feel quite so safe anymore.
"We'll need you to clear out of the area, Father," the Park Ranger informed Father Mike as the two men finally came up alongside a pale, sweaty Zeke. "The Army's sending in the 555th to get rid of the thing. They'll be here quick as can be, and I'm afraid they'll be none to pleased if there's a bunch of civilians in the area."
"Come on, Zeke. Let's get back to the children and get packed up." Father Mike suggested, wrapping an arm around the obviously shaken teenager and leading him away.
Zeke resisted the temptation to hug every one of the kids as they helped load up the camping gear. They would have thought he'd gone nuts or something if he'd tried, but he couldn't stop imagining what might have happened if the children had messed around with the bomb. The images played over an over.
Despite all the chaos in the rest of the world, America had always seemed so safe. The bomb had rudenly awakened him. People needed someone out there watching over them, keeping them safe to enjoy all the happiness that life offered. That was a useful purpose that Zeke knew he'd feel honored to be a part of in a time of war or peace. Serene resignation flowed over him as he decided to join the Army after all.