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Neighbors: Mystery about Oslo, Minn., balloon from China solved

Neighbors thought this challenge would stump Forum readers.

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Bob Lind

Neighbors thought this challenge would stump Forum readers. Wrong.

The challenge was to translate the Chinese characters, shown here, written alongside a flag on a piece of leather that was attached to a balloon which landed near Oslo, Minn., in 1945 during World War II.

Hardly had the newspaper ink dried the day that item ran than this column received an email from Ron Martin, vice president of international logistics for Midwest Motor Express Inc., Fargo.

Ron wrote that he'd shown the column to Hao Zhang, who is from Qingdao, China, graduated from Concordia College and now works in Midwest's international office in Fargo.

Hao promptly translated the message on the balloon. It reads: "Soldiers and citizens get together to protect the foreigners (Americans) who come to China and help fighting against Japan."

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Ron and Hao say the balloon was launched in China and was intended to land there, too, in order to spread the word that the Americans were friends of the Chinese and were helping them fight the Japanese. It asks those who found it, be they Chinese soldiers or civilians, to help the Americans. But the balloon apparently got caught in the jet stream and wound up in far-off Minnesota.

Ron says the Americans mentioned in this message on the balloon were in what was called a "Flying Squad," made up of volunteers from United States flying units who sought to help such Asian countries as China and Korea during World War II.

Ron's brother Jerry Martin provided more information on the leather pieces carrying the flag and message. They were called "Blood Chits." Flyers wore them on their uniforms. They were intended to provide rapid identification of a downed flyer and facilitate assistance from allies of the U.S. They were first used by American flyers in the China-Burma-India Theater of the war.

Jerry, a native of Valley City, N.D. attended the Air Force Academy, retired as a lieutenant colonel and now is command historian for the Air Force, working out of Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Neb. He lives in Nebraska City, Neb. Ron says his brother is a "walking encyclopedia of military history who writes encyclopedia articles dealing with military issues."

So, thanks to these two brothers and our neighbor from China, there's the story behind the Oslo, Minn., balloon.

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