On this day in 1942, a Japanese pilot bombs a forest in southern Oregon, near the small logging town of Brookings. It was one of the few attacks on our mainland during World War II, and the incident might have been mostly forgotten but for what followed a few decades later.
“The attack, just before dawn September 9,” newspapers reported at the time, “was an apparent attempt to set fire to a valuable but isolated forest on the southern Oregon coast. . . . A small seaplane without identifying markings was seen to come in from the sea and circle the Mount Emily area just before the fire was observed. Shortly afterward the craft returned toward the sea.”
The Japanese had brought that plane to our western coast, wings folded, via submarine. In the darkness of early morning, the plane had been re-assembled, then slung into the air with a catapult.
The Japanese later reported that their pilot, Nobuo Fujita, dropped two bombs from this plane, but wet weather combined with an alert American Forest Service lookout ensured that the small fire created by one of Fujita’s bombs was quickly extinguished.
A second attempt to bomb Oregon a few weeks later also met with failure, but that didn’t stop Japanese officials from proclaiming success. In Japan, newspapers blared that Fujito’s “First Air Raid on Mainland America” was a “Big Shock to Americans.”
Yet the story doesn’t end there. In an interesting twist, Fujita came to regret what he’d done. After the war, many members of his own family didn’t even know that he’d once piloted a mission against America. And by 1962, he was ready to make amends—as were the residents of Brookings.
Would you believe that Fujita was invited to visit Oregon by the Brookings-Harbor Jaycees? A few members had come up with the idea over beers, but not everyone was on board. Indeed, the idea left the town in turmoil for weeks. What should be done? Finally, an instinct for goodwill took over and Fujita was invited.
He accepted the invitation, bringing along his family’s treasured 400-year-old samurai sword as a token of his regret. But would Oregonians really accept his remorse?
“He thought perhaps people would still be angry and would throw eggs at him,” Fujita’s daughter later said. “If that happened,” she added, “as a Japanese, he wanted to take responsibility for what he had done.” She meant that he would use his own sword to commit ritual suicide.
Fujita needn’t have worried. The Brookings community welcomed him with open arms, and a multi-decade friendship blossomed between the citizens of Brookings and the former Japanese pilot. His samurai sword was accepted and hung in the local library. Meanwhile, Fujita donated money so books could be purchased about Japan. He wanted our two cultures to understand each other better so that a war would never happen again.
Fujita returned to Oregon several times in the years that followed. He attended ceremonies to dedicate a state historical marker, and he helped plant trees to mark the spot where the bombs had been dropped. Yet he still wanted to do more. It took him 23 years, but he finally saved up enough money so he could host American high school students in Japan.
Three students were chosen and visited Japan for one week in 1985. They loved it!
“All we did is laugh the whole time,” one student said. “It changed my life a lot,” she added. “I have a different viewpoint of foreigners, of the Japanese people. I respect them.”
Fujita passed away just over a decade later. Just before he passed, the town council of Brookings named Fujita an “honorary citizen” of Brookings. Later, his daughter would spread some of her father’s ashes in the forest he’d once bombed.
“He felt his soul would forever be flying over the forest,” she said.
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Bombs Fall on Oregon: Japanese Attacks on the State (Oregon Secretary of State website)
Jap Plane Bombs Oregon; Failure (The Providence; Vancouver; Sept. 15, 1942) (page 1)
Larry Bingham, Oregon coast trail dedicated for World War II bombing (The Oregonian; Oct. 3, 2008)
Nicholas D. Kristof, Nobuo Fujita, 85, Is Dead; Only Foe to Bomb America (NY Times; Oct. 3, 1997)
Steven Trent Smith, The Japanese Pilot Who Bombed Mainland Ame rica (World War II magazine; June 2020) (reprinted HERE)
Students back from tour hosted by Japanese World War II pilot (UPI; July 16, 1985)