Off Beat: Pace of news has changed since our WWII headlines

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Lt. Royce E. Griffin

Our story about the death of Vancouver fighter pilot Lt. Royce Griffin in 1945 shows how the pace of news has changed since World War II.

The Oct. 29 story told how a wayward telegram, informing Mrs. Laura Griffin that her son had died in the Philippines, wound up back in Vancouver with the Griffin family 68 years later.

But that’s not the pace of news under discussion. Griffin was killed on April 25, 1945; The Columbian reported his death almost a month later, on Page 1 of our May 22, 1945 paper.

It was not the only news that was slow to arrive. A six-column headline in that day’s paper revealed that the Japanese had been bombing the U.S. since November 1944. They were “balloon bombs,” which rode the jet stream about 6,000 miles from Japan to the West Coast.

Many people — including reporters — knew the balloons had reached the U.S. There was a military reason for this news lag: The information was bottled up so the Japanese wouldn’t realize their bombs were actually arriving at their target; as a result, they abandoned the effort after six months.

The story added that “there has been no damage to property …”

The story didn’t say that six people had been killed. Five children who were part of a Sunday school group and the wife of their pastor were killed on May 5, 1945, while picnicking near Bly, Ore. The pastor had been parking the car when the bomb went off and was the only survivor.

A man who spent his later years in Vancouver almost was part of the picnic group, by the way. Leo Moll, who died on Jan. 27, 2011, once told The Columbian that he’d been invited on the outing. There wasn’t room in the pastor’s car, so Moll and a couple of other kids stayed behind, he told The Columbian in 2008.

If he had gone along, Moll said, “I would have been killed.”

U.S. authorities revealed the balloon-bomb campaign 17 days after the deaths. As that May 22 story explained, “the disclosure was being made so that a public safety campaign could be undertaken.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.