It was about 1:30 in the morning of June 26, 1945, just a few weeks before the Japanese surrendered to end the war. Within a short period, four “bombs” struck downtown Patterson.
The first hit in the middle of North Third Street in front of the Patterson Irrigator building. It pierced the pavement, making what looked like a gopher hole. It appeared the missile came from a southbound plane.
Police Chief Carl Busengdal was in front of City Hall at the time. He heard the impact and saw the smoke it produced.
Busengdal drove to the area, but not knowing the exact location of the explosion, he stopped on Salado Avenue opposite the Plaza Grocery. The chief had just exited his car when a second missile hit the grocery building. A fragment struck the officer in the leg.
Later, he discovered a third bomb had struck the Roberts Building on South Third Street, going through first the roof and then the Doris-Lee Beauty Salon, piercing the south wall and striking the counter in the Truman Insurance office before continuing on through the floor.
A fourth bomb struck Del Puerto Avenue just south of the Commercial Bank (now Tri Counties Bank).
All but the missile that crashed into the Plaza Grocery building appeared to have been released from a southbound plane, while the other was fired in the opposite direction.
Rumors immediately flew around the community. They continued after Lt. Cmdr. F.B. Hopkins, officer in charge at the Crows Landing Naval Air Station, claimed that no planes from his base were in the air at the time.
Could it have been the enemy? Probably not.
No public admission was ever made. But as the days passed, alarm around the community escalated.
At the end of that week, Irrigator Editor R.C. Fleharty published an editorial, titled “Take it easy, fellows,” requesting that Navy fliers discontinue the dangerous tactic of buzzing the town.
And the very next week, he reported in detail the problems being caused by Navy pilots who were firing .50-caliber guns.
That firing was supposed to be aimed at a target range set up in the hill country, but County Fire Warden Ossie Ball, also Patterson’s fire chief, had an additional explanation.
Ball was convinced that pilots were firing at coyotes, deer and other imagined targets, setting numerous fires. In the week since the bombings, four range fires were fought, one of which burned 4,000 acres.
Ball’s statistics were these: 52 range fires in the hill country in 28 days.
Pattersonites had extra reason to rejoice when the Japanese surrendered a few weeks later. Our “war” was over, too.
Ron Swift is curator of the Patterson Township Historical Society downtown museum, which is now open all afternoons except Sundays in the Center Building.