After the battle of Midway the Japanese Admiralty began to look for different ways to launch a naval attack on the continental United States. Eleven Japanese submarines were specially equipped with deck hangars to carry single-engine, catapult-launched, float planes that were capable of flying 1.5 hours to target and back or 3 total hours of reconnaissance. These small craft had a top air speed of only about 100 knots. They were stored for transport in 12 separate pieces and assembled just prior to launch. The planes, called geta for the floats' resemblance to a Japanese clog, were originally intended for reconnaissance, but a young warrant Officer by the name of Nobuo Fujita came up with the idea of attaching bombs to these planes and attacking surface ships with them. The Japanese Admiralty instructed Fujita to test out his innovation, but rather than using the planes to attack ships, they would be used to drop incendiary bombs on the heavily forested areas of southern Oregon. The reason for the Japanese Admiralty’s decision was recorded as "Rather than inflicting limited damage on industrial targets, since the northwestern U.S. is full of forests, we will start a blaze in the deep woods. The resulting forest fire will be very difficult to stop. Whole towns will be destroyed and it will create panic among the population."
The Japanese submarine I-25 was outfitted for the mission. It arrived off the coast of Southern Oregon in August of 1942, and the crew spent 10 anxious days awaiting seas calm enough to launch the geta. Finally, on September 9, 1942, Warrant Officer Fujita and his observer, Petty Officer Shoji Okuda boarded their geta and set off on a heading to inland Oregon. The men dropped two incendiary bombs in a heavily forested area on Mount Emily, east of Brookings, Oregon. The bombs, however, had little effect. The same storm that had kept the submarine below surface had drenched the forests of Mount Emily, and the only bomb of the two that did explode caused only a small, easily extinguishable fire. The plane was spotted, however, and the I-25 came under attack by U.S. aircraft, forcing the submarine to seek refuge on the ocean floor near Port Orford, where Fujita launched a similar bomb attack three weeks later, again to no great effect. Fujita and Okuda did, however, become the first and only enemy mission to successfully bomb the continental U.S. during World War II. The bombing was a closely kept secret from the American public, and details weren't released until after the end of the war.
The best part of the story, at least to me, began twenty years after the attack. Nobuo Fujita was invited back to Brookings in 1962 by the Brookings Jaycees, a community group that was helping organize the annual Azalea Festival. Most of the Jaycees felt that a "forgive and forget" gesture such as this would be a good thing. It was a tough fight to get approval of such a bilateral gesture of peace from both sides, some Brookings residents weren't ready to make such an invitation, and the Japanese government wanted assurance that Fujita wasn't being lured to the United States to be tried as a war criminal. Finally, however, it happened. In an incredible gesture, Nobuo Fujita offered his 400 year old family Samurai sword to the City of Brookings and vowed to work to mend the wounds caused by the war. Indeed, Fujita visited Brookings many times in the next 35 years, and gave much to atone for his part in the war. He set up a fund at our local library to furnish books that educate Brookings children about different cultures. He purchased several very beautiful Japanese windsocks that are flown at the annual Azalea Festival here. He visited the site of the fire caused by his bomb, and in an ceremony involving Buddhist prayers and the ceremonial planting of a redwood tree, made his peace with the land he attempted to incinerate. (I was supremely honored to be present at this ceremony, and it remains one of the most spiritual moments in my entire life). He sponsored several Brookings-Harbor high school students as exchange students to Japan, and offered them an all expense paid tour of his country. In the course of turning from warrior to peacemaker, Nobuo Fujita made many friends and showed many people the true meaning of peace. Gravely ill, at age 86, he was visited by an American friend who had flown to Japan with an official document from the Brookings City Council. The very next day, Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita passed away, but not until the former airman had learned that he had been proclaimed an "Honorary Citizen" of Brookings, Oregon, U.S.A.
The Fujita Samurai sword is on display at the Chetco Public Library on Railroad Street.