Samurai sword display.

Samurai Sword of Pilot Who Bombed Oregon

Field review by the editors.

Brookings, Oregon

If a bomb falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Nobuo Fujita, warrant officer in the Japanese Imperial Navy.
Nobuo Fujita, warrant officer in the Japanese Imperial Navy.

During World War II, Japan attacked Oregon. It may have made a sound, but nobody in America heard it.

Wars are affected by perceived threat as much as direct combat action. Civil War Confederate cavalry noisily rode back and forth through the woods, mimicking a larger force, and fooling observing Union troops to delay attacks. Modern fears of terrorism freak out Americans and consume resources, even though actual fatalities are rare (like the meme says, TODDLERS WITH GUNS TAKE MORE LIVES).

Misdirect the enemy, erode homeland confidence. Let them think your army of toddlers is at the gates.

World War II was full of such feints and psych-outs. The Oregon mission of the Japanese Imperial Navy was designed to shatter assumptions of U.S. mainland invulnerability (six months earlier, America punctured Japan's mainland invulnerability with Doolittle's long-range, one-time bomber raid).

On September 9, 1942, a Japanese sub stealthily surfaced off the coast of southern Oregon, and launched its small E14Y floatplane with a crew of two, carrying a pair of 170 lb. thermite bombs. Target: the highly combustible forests just east of Brookings, Oregon.

The pilot, Nobuo Fujita, flew inland several miles, let loose an incendiary bomb, saw an explosion, dropped a second bomb, and returned to the sub. Twenty days later, the sub returned to America with Fujita and his plane, and dropped two more bombs in the Grassy Knob Wilderness near Port Orford (These failed to detonate, and the site has never been found).

Model of the E14Y floatplane that bombed Oregon.
Model of the E14Y floatplane that bombed Oregon.

Fujita was hailed as a hero in Japan. But in a time before the Weather Channel, Japan was unaware of how wet that season had been on the Oregon coast. The bombs didn't ignite much of anything in the damp woods, and the attack was a failure. Local spotters found the first bomb site that day -- a crater with smashed, smoldering trees in a 75-foot-wide circle. The U.S. government and military kept it out of the newspapers, and Americans were unaware they had been bombed.

Japan never mounted another U.S. mainland bomber mission (although it did launch balloons with incendiaries in 1944 and 1945, some drifting as far as Nebraska and Texas, and killing a group of picnickers in Oregon).

Twenty years after the Brookings bombing attempts, the failed mission was no longer secret. The Brookings Junior Chamber of Commerce, planning the town's annual Azalea Festival, thought it would be really neat to find the unknown pilot and invite him as an honored guest. Townspeople initially were split, either angry about paying tribute to a former enemy, or proud of this step towards international goodwill. The Junior Chamber prevailed, ID'd the pilot, and sent the invitation.

Samurai sword display at the library.
Samurai sword display at the library.

Fujita and his family traveled to Brookings for a ceremony on September 9, 1962, anniversary of the attack. Fujita presented the city with his ancestral 400-year-old Samurai sword (he carried it with him in the plane on the original mission). It turned out that after the war, the man had become a pacifist, and hoped giving this valuable gift to a former enemy, "in the finest of Samurai traditions," would serve to "pledge peace and friendship."

He was not mistaken. Fujita was made an honorary citizen of Brookings, and the sword was proudly put on display in City Hall. Fujita and his family members returned several more times to his adoptive (bombed-but-not-burned) city. In 1974, Fujita's son viewed the recently rediscovered bomb site from the air. In 1992, Mr. Fujita planted a coastal redwood at the bomb site, as his apology to the forest.

Japaneses Bombing Site Trail.
Japaneses Bombing Site Trail.

In 1995 Fujita again attended the Azalea Festival, and transferred the sword to the public library, its current home. The sword is mounted in a glass case in the main room. There are small models of his plane and the submarine. The library maintains a clippings notebook you can ask to see. A plaque accompanying the sword describes Fujita as "the only enemy to bomb the U.S. from the air."

When Nobuo Fujita died in 1997, his obituary in the New York Times noted that in 1962 he'd brought the sword to Brookings for another reason. He planned to kill himself with it if the townspeople were still mad at him (most weren't). In 1998 his daughter and son-in-law traveled to the first bombing site to scatter some of his ashes.

Today, the bombing site is a point of interest, marked on maps. To get there visitors need a vehicle with high clearance and patience to navigate 12 miles of unpaved, winding National Forest roads -- called the Japanese Bombing Site Trail. The site features interpretive signs, and the planted trees. The remote location, with its steep, uninhabited mountains and bubbling streams, feels like the last place you'd find a war landmark.

Also see: Japanese Bombing Site Trail

Samurai Sword of Pilot Who Bombed Oregon

Chetco Community Public Library

Address:
405 Alder St., Brookings, OR
Directions:
Chetco Community Public Library. Southeast side of town. From US Hwy 101 turn south onto Alder St. and drive two blocks. You'll see the library on the right.
Hours:
M-Sa 10-5, some later hours.
Admission:
Free
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

1,400 Teapots1,400 Teapots, Brookings, OR - < 1 mi.
Ship Ashore - Little Museum (Closed)Ship Ashore - Little Museum (Closed), Smith River, CA - 8 mi.
Japanese Bombed HereJapanese Bombed Here, Brookings, OR - 9 mi.
In the region:
Douglas Memorial Bridge Memorial, Klamath, CA - 38 mi.

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February 23, 2017

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