WWII Memoirs – September 9, 1942 – The War Comes to Oregon, Brookings

The only airplane attack by a foreign power on the U.S. mainland during World War II occurred in the vicinity of Mt. Emily near Brookings, Oregon on September 9, 1942. Its mission was to ignite huge forest fires in the Pacific Northwest and destroy U.S timber resources, and in the process, create panic and low morale among the American people. None of these things happened.

Nobuo Fujita standing by his Yokosuka E14Y "Glen" seaplane. (Wikipedia)

Nobuo Fujita standing by his Yokosuka E14Y “Glen” seaplane. (Wikipedia)

This attack was part of the reaction to the Doolittle raid on the Japanese mainland in April. Their military leaders were angered and humiliated by this strike at their homeland, and in retaliation ordered two long-range submarines to attack American shipping and other targets along the United States’ northwest coast.

The sub, I-25, dispatched on the forest fire mission was the same one that had attacked Ft. Stevens in June. It was a submarine aircraft carrier, and the float-plane it carried was its main instrument for starting forest fires.

I-25 took up its position near Brookings, Oregon and waited several days for the weather to clear. On the morning of September 9 the mists were gone, and the plane was assembled and made ready for launching. The pilot, Nubua Fujita and his navigator were soon catapulted on their mission. They flew east, undetected, past Brookings, and an hour later reached their objective. The navigator released the two 160-pound incendiary bombs. Only one exploded, but it started a blaze, and they returned to the sub. Just as the dismantling and storing of the plane was completed, disaster nearly overtook the crew. A U.S. Navy plane had spotted them and attacked with bombs. But it had arrived too late, and the sub escaped with minor damage.

Nobuo Fujita (Wikipedia)

Nobuo Fujita (Wikipedia)

Shortly after Fujita’s plane had left the scene of its bombing, the Mt. Emily fire lookout reported a blaze in his area, and immediately set out on foot to locate it. So did the lookout at another nearby station. They eventually arrived at the the fire, and found a few blazes involving only seven trees, which they quickly extinguished. Authorities later determined that a forest fire could have resulted in heavy timber losses, but weather conditions were not favorable on the morning of September 9.

Three weeks later Fujita made a second try to attain his objective of starting a forest fire, this time near Port Orford, also on the Oregon coast. Neither of the two incendiaries exploded. And to date, neither has been found. After the last attempt failed, the mission ended, and the submarine returned to Japan. After the war, Fujita became a successful business man.

Though delayed for two decades, this story had a happy ending. In 1962 the City of Brookings invited the enemy pilot, Nobua Fujita, who twenty years ago had tried to burn down their forests, to be their guest. In return for their hospitality he gave the city his samurai sword that had been in his family for 400 years, and which he had carried for good luck on his bombing missions. The event was well publicized in the Oregonian, and I recall Fujita’s words, as he presented his gift: “It is the finest of Smurai traditions to pledge peace and friendship by submitting the sword to the former enemy.”

Fujita returned to Brookings three more times, and during that time hosted three exchange students from Brookings-Harbor High School to schools in Japan. On his last visit he brought his granddaughter with him.

That all war stories should have such endings.

References

 
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…the last casualty of World War II may not yet have occurred.