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COLUMBUS, NEB. — Norbert Ciecior was 12 years old when his house was bombed.
He and three younger siblings were fast asleep inside the family’s home on the south side of Tarnov when the two B-17 bombers began circling the small Platte County community.
The Columbus Telegram reports that it was around 4 a.m. Monday, Aug. 16, 1943. World War II was being waged on the European and Pacific fronts.
In Tarnov, the roughly 100 townspeople, most of Polish descent, had finished celebrating at the annual harvest festival just three hours earlier.
Ciecior’s mother, Mary, was awakened by the sounds of the planes overhead. She was discussing the noise with her husband, Joseph, when the 100-pound bomb came tearing through the home.
It ripped a hole in the roof of the back porch and busted through a sidewall near the pantry before lodging in the floor, leaving a fin visible when the startled family investigated by lantern light.
The lone casualty, Ciecior said, was a large sack of flour, which added to the cloud of dust and shattered wood inside the home.
His sisters, ages 9 and 5, were sleeping in a bedroom just six feet from where the large metal projectile entered the house, and Ciecior and his 11-year-old brother weren’t far away.
Surprisingly, “I don’t remember any noise,” Ciecior said.
Now 82 and a resident of Columbus, Ciecior shared his unique experience recently with more than 80 attendees of a Platte County Historical Society presentation.
The accidental bombing of his hometown remains nearly as perplexing today as it was seven decades ago.
A report from that day’s Columbus Daily Telegram describes two planes circling Tarnov about 15 times during the night training mission.
The U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft dropped a total of seven practice bombs within a four-block area, most of which landed without causing damage. The metal containers were filled with sand and a small explosive charge, but none detonated.
Uninjured but frightened, the six members of the Ciecior family fled to a neighbor’s house about two blocks away after the bomb hit.
Ciecior said a telegram was sent to his brother stationed in California, but news of the bombing had already reached the West Coast airwaves before it arrived.
In the following days, Ciecior recalled, people from across the country converged on Tarnov to view the damage.
Eleven families were evacuated from the area where the bombs landed.
Humphrey resident Eleanor Jaworski lived one mile west of Tarnov when the incident occurred.
“I remember a lot of people came to our home because they had to evacuate the town,” she said, “and they walked to our home, a lot of them.”
Jaworski, 80, said her mother rushed to kill enough chickens to feed the hungry evacuees.
Her first cousin, also a Tarnov native, later married one of the crew members aboard the planes that August morning.
Although the bombing was investigated by the U.S. Army, Tarnov residents never received a formal explanation for the mistake.
It’s believed lights lining the town’s main street were mistaken for a bomb range located near Stanton, about 30 miles to the northeast.
“As far as we know the government never paid for anything,” Ciecior said, “not even a sack of flour.”
Tarnov residents celebrated the 50th anniversary of the morning their town was accidentally bombed with a festival in 1993 inviting people to “Get bombed in Tarnov.”
The event featured a reenactment of the bombing using rolls of toilet paper and a representative from the Strategic Air Command offered an apology for the incident.
The small southwest Nebraska town of Dickens was also bombed in the early 1940s when planes leaving a base near McCook accidentally dropped practice bombs on the community.