Archie E. Mitchell

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Archie Emerson Mitchell
Born (1918-05-01)May 1, 1918
Franklin, Nebraska
Disappeared May 30, 1962 (aged 44)
Occupation minister, missionary
Religion Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA)
Spouse(s) Elsie Winters Mitchell
Betty Patzke Mitchell

The Reverend Archie Emerson Mitchell (born May 1, 1918) was a minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). He was born in Franklin, Nebraska.[1] He attended Simpson Bible College and Nyack Missionary College. Mitchell served as a missionary to Vietnam working on the staff of the Ban Me Thuot Leprosarium[2] when he was taken captive by the Viet Cong on May 30, 1962,[3] along with Daniel Amstutz Gerber,[4] and Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti.[5] None of the three have been seen since.

Balloon bomb tragedy[edit]

Main article: Fire balloon
The C&MA church in Bly, Oregon.

On Saturday, May 5, 1945, Mitchell, who at that time was the pastor of the C&MA church in Bly, Oregon,[6] led a Sunday School picnic up into the nearby mountains of southern Oregon. Accompanying Mitchell was his five-months-pregnant wife, Elsie (née Winters), and five children from the church. Up in the mountains Mitchell drove the car around by the road, while the others hiked through the woods. While Mitchell was getting the lunch out of the car near Leonard Creek,[7] the others called to him and said that they had found what looked to be a balloon. Unbeknownst to the group, this was a dangerous Japanese incendiary balloon bomb. As Mitchell was warning them not to touch it, there was a large explosion. Mitchell ran to the spot and found the whole group dead. Killed in the explosion were Elsie Mitchell, 26, and the five children: Sherman Shoemaker, 11, Jay Gifford, 13, Edward Engen, 13, Joan Patzke, 13, and Dick Patzke, 14.[8] They were the first and only known American civilians to be killed by enemy action in the Continental United States during World War II.[9]

In 1950, the Weyerhaeuser timber company built a monument at the site of the explosion. The Mitchell Monument is constructed of native stone and displays a bronze plaque with the names and ages of the victims of the balloon bomb explosion. Weyerhaeuser donated the monument along with the surrounding land to the Fremont National Forest in 1998.[10] The monument site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[11]

Indo-China Mission[edit]

On December 23, 1947, Mitchell with his new bride Betty (née Patzke) sailed to Indo-China for what was the beginning of two terms of service as missionaries to the Vietnamese people of Da Lat. The Mitchells' third term of service would be their assignment at the Ban Me Thuot Leprosarium.

On Wednesday evening, May 30, 1962, Mitchell and the rest of the staff of the leprosarium were preparing to meet at Dr. Vietti's house for their weekly prayer meeting. At dusk, around 7:45 p.m., a group of 12 members of the Viet Cong entered the leprosarium grounds, which was located about nine miles from Ban Me Thuot. The Viet Cong split up into three groups of four members each, and one group met Dan Gerber, who served with the Mennonite Central Committee, and tied him up. A second group went to the Mitchell home, ordered Archie out of the house, tied him up, and led him away with Dan Gerber. This was witnessed by the members of the Mitchell family including his wife, Betty, and three of their four children, Rebecca (age 13), Loretta (age 10), and Glenn (age 8). The youngest Mitchell child, daughter Geraldine (age 4), was already asleep in bed. Another group of Viet Cong went to Vietti's house and found her in bed. She was ordered to get up, dress, and she was led out of the compound, unbound, to join the other two captives.[12] The Viet Cong planned to take Betty and the children captive as well, but were convinced by the missionaries that they would only fully cooperate if Betty and the children were left behind. The Viet Cong also ransacked the buildings for any supplies they could use, including linens, medicines, clothing, and surgical equipment. At around 10:00 p.m. that evening the Viet Cong left the compound taking the prisoners (Mitchell, Gerber, and Vietti) and supplies with them.[1] This all happened without any shots fired or any bloodshed.[12]

After their capture both American and South Vietnamese military intelligence agencies immediately discovered where the captives were probably being detained, and also confirmed that the Viet Cong used the missionaries' medical expertise to treat their own sick and wounded. While military intelligence was able to successfully track the movements of Mitchell, Gerber, and Vietti, the heavy and continuous Viet Cong presence in and around the area they were being held captive did not allow the military to mount a rescue mission. Missionary officials also attempted to negotiate for release of the captives. Although, by 1969, negotiations between the C&MA and some Viet Cong soldiers appeared close to securing their release, the negotiations collapsed and never could be reconstituted.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Mitchell, Archie Emerson Accessed 2009-05-11.
  2. ^ Mitchell, Archie Emerson Accessed 2009-05-02.
  3. ^ Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), U.S. Unaccounted-For from the Vietnam War, Report for: Washington 2007-02-08. Accessed 2009-05-14.
  4. ^ Gerber, Daniel Amstutz (1940-1962?), Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online Accessed 2009-05-11.
  5. ^ Vietti, Eleanor Ardel Accessed 2009-05-12.
  6. ^ "Saw Wife and Five Children Killed by Jap Balloon Bomb". Seattle Times. June 1, 1945. Archived from the original on April 17, 2014. Retrieved May 5, 2013. Saw Wife and Five Children Killed by Jap Balloon Bomb 
  7. ^ Juillerat, Lee (May 5, 2005). "Japanese balloon bomb killed six 60 years ago today". Archived from the original on April 17, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ POTRZEBIE Long before 9/11 there was 5/5 2009-04-14. Accessed 2009-05-14.
  9. ^ Six killed in Oregon by Japanese bomb
  10. ^ Richard, Terry, "Oregon connection to World War II", The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, 5 April 2007.
  11. ^ “Mitchell Recreation Area”, National Register of Historic Places,, 19 June 2009.
  12. ^ a b MISSIONARIES KIDNAPPED—HOW IT HAPPENED: Adapted from The Alliance Weekly, June 27, 1962, November 2008. Accessed 2009-05-24.

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