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Oregon Trails: WWII Bombing Anniversary

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BROOKINGS, Ore. — This week, an anniversary marked an event that remains unique to World War II’s history. It also coincides with another event that helped heal the wounds of war for many people.

A small group of visitors from Illinois drove all the way from southern Nevada to see a 400-year-old samurai sword on display at the Chetco Public Library in Brookings. The sword is a gift to the people of Brookings and Oregon from a former Japanese pilot, Nobuo Fujita, who is the only enemy pilot from World War II known to have dropped bombs on the continental United States.

Flying a small plane launched from a specially equipped Japanese submarine, on September 9th, 1942, Fujita says he dropped two incendiary bombs near Mt. Emily, hoping to ignite forest fires that would cause panic and fear along the West Coast.

“When they dropped the bomb on Mt. Emily, and then on Grassy Knob, it was raining and it just fizzled. It didn’t do anything,” explained Brenda Jacques, a retired librarian.

A forest lookout saw the plane flying over in the dark, and found the smoldering bomb site. Authorities tried to keep the story quiet. Fujita and the submarine came back a couple weeks later and tried the same thing again near Port Orford with the same results.

“When he got back to Japan he was hailed as a hero because he bombed and started fires, and they weren’t quite sure what had happened there,” said Brenda.

Fujita helped develop the system for launching the float planes from a submarine. It was one of the Japanese empire’s secret weapons. They also tried bombing Santa Barbara as retaliation for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo earlier in the year, but as the winds of war turned against Japan, only a few local residents really knew what happened in September of 1942.

After the war, Fujita returned to civilian life and never told his family of his historic role in World War II. 20 years later, in 1962, when the Brookings JC’s were looking for a boost for the town’s annual azalea festival, they decided to track down the pilot who brought the war to Southern Oregon.

“He thought he was being tried for war crimes, and he brought this sword with him, which was on the plane, thinking that if he was being tried for war crimes, he would commit suicide with the sword,” Brenda explained.

Mr. Fujita’s return many years after the attack, with his samurai sword and it’s donation to the city, caused of a lot of consternation and concern among many resident in this community. Some felt it was in bad taste, and some still would like to have it removed from the library.

“It divided Brookings. It’s still divided. Some people still don’t speak to each other,” Brenda said.

“Something happened here that’s very, very important you know. Not the bombing, but the cultural exchange that happened here,” explained sword cleaner Justin Hager.

Two or three times a year, Hager performs not just a physical but also a ritual cleaning of the sword that he describes as priceless. The attempts to start fires with a Fujita’s sub-launched plane did not work out, but the Japanese did move ahead with development of its I-Class submarines that could carry and launch three planes, with little impact on the war.

Later, thousands of paper balloons were also built, and launched on the jet stream, also hoping to start forest fires. They also had little impact, except on the small Klamath County town of Bly. In May of 1945, a Sunday school class on outing near Gearheart Mountain found one which exploded, killing the minister’s wife and five children.

At the time, most Americans knew little of these attempts to bring the war home to the Americans, but today many more know of a quiet Japanese veteran pilot who surrendered one of his family’s most precious treasures to do what he could to help heal the wounds of war.

A trail takes visitors to the Mount Emily firebomb site and is marked with interpretive signs. The trail is 19 miles by road, east of Brookings. For more information contact the U.S. Forest Service in Gold Beach.