Tarnov bomb

A replica of one of the seven bombs that fell on Tarnov 75 years ago is on display at the town’s museum.

The Second World War was waging across both big oceans, but Tarnov, just a pinch of a town, was celebrating the harvest.

The Polish farmers of the Platte County community were throwing their annual festival, with a big feed, hayrack rides and a party that played out into the early hours of the next morning.

Tarnov bomb

The Columbus Daily Telegram reported Tarnov's bombing on Aug. 16, 1943.

Eleanor Jaworski was 10 on Aug. 16, 1943, but she remembers.

“One person had too much to drink and he was sleeping it off in a car next to the dance hall,” she said. “And one of the bombs just missed him.”

The farmer hadn’t heard the misguided B-17s circling above Tarnov, or the impact of the seven bombs they dropped on the sleeping town of about 100.

But Mary Ciecior had. And five years ago, her son, Norbert, described to the Platte County Historical Society the night Tarnov got bombed for the first time.

He was 12 in 1943, he said. The roar of the planes had awakened his parents, and they were talking about it when the bomb tore through their house, missing his sleeping sisters by 6 feet.

It ripped through the roof of their back porch and splintered a wall and landed in their pantry, blowing open a sack of flour and clouding the air with dust.

A half-dozen more training bombs — 100-pound sand-filled steel cylinders — fell on a four-block area, none of them causing injury but all of them forever putting Tarnov on the map, and emptying the town temporarily.

Jaworski was living north of town, and she remembers Tarnov residents showing up in their farmyard, on foot, seeking shelter.

“Some of the older people didn’t even have vehicles, and they walked,” she said. “I remember we had families walking.”

Tarnov locator map

Later, they would learn the bombers-in-training — from Sioux City, or maybe it was Fairmont, or somewhere in Kansas — had mistaken the streetlights of Tarnov for their intended target practice range near Stanton and had waged a one-sided war on the small town.

Tarnov Bomb

Attendees of a Platte County Historical Society presentation examined a piece of twisted metal from one of the bombs dropped on Tarnov in 1943.

It was hard to get information from the military, said Judy Hanzel, a member of the St. Michael’s Historical Society. “They didn’t want to own up to anything for a long time,” she said.

But that morning, hours after the harvest festival ended and the bombs dropped, Jaworski’s mother was doing her best to accommodate the evacuees.

“These people were coming,” she said. “And Mother was running around catching chickens to butcher and feed all of these people.”

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The military would collect the bombs and Tarnov would repair the damage and return to normal, its population slowly fading. The town is about half of what it was then, its school turned into the Tarnov Heritage Museum, which honors that early morning 75 years ago.

“It’s part of the history here,” Hanzel said. “How many towns in Nebraska got bombed by our own people?” (Two. Dickens, in Lincoln County, escaped injury after it was targeted by bombers from McCook in the early 1940s.)

To mark the 75th anniversary, the historical society on Sunday will host another community festival in Tarnov, with Mass at the church and music and a meal and a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

“It’s not something to celebrate,’” said Tim Sliva, a member of the historical society. “But the town isn’t really known for much else.”

The commemoration will also include a scavenger hunt, quilt show and a flyover by vintage aircraft.

“They may do a dive bomb-type effect,” Sliva said. “That would be kind of cool.”

And there will be beer flowing, like it was 75 years ago hours before the B-17s started circling, and like it was during the 50th anniversary in 1993.

Jaworski remembers that festival, too. “They had these caps that said, ‘I got bombed in Tarnov.’ And everybody just sported those things.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.



Peter Salter is a reporter.

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