- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

To find the last time a foreign power attacked Americans on their own soil, you would have to go back to World War II. Contrary to popular opinion, however, it wasn't at Pearl Harbor.
It happened nine months after the first date that has lived in infamy, and it took place near the tiny timber community of Brookings, Ore.
On Sept. 9, 1942, a Japanese Geta float plane dropped four incendiary bombs on the thickly forested Oregon coast. The plan, hatched as a way to retaliate for Gen. Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, was to set the entire Oregon forest on fire, thus spreading panic throughout the entire West Coast.
The Japanese pilot was Chief Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita, an experienced Geta pilot with more than 10 years' naval service and 3,000 flying hours under his belt, according to a 1962 article in Time magazine.
But the plan didn't quite work out as intended. Three of the four bombs were duds. The fourth sparked a small blaze that was quickly put out by forest rangers who watched the entire 20-minute raid from the Mount Emily observation post.
"It's the only time a bomb has ever been dropped on the continental United States," said Brenda Jacques, reference librarian for the Chetco Community Public Library, where a history of the raid is displayed. "And they thought it was a success that's what the Japanese papers said. Fujita thought he'd succeeded."
That might have been the end of Oregon's Japan connection were it not for the town's annual Azalea Festival. Twenty years later, the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce decided to invite Mr. Fujita to the festival as a means of drumming up publicity.
The idea quickly drew local opposition. Leaders of a Brookings veterans group wrote in a letter to the Jaycees that they were "shocked" by the invitation.
"Had his bomb not been a dud and hit our business section and one of our schools, would you still invite him?" said the letter. "To us, an invitation to Fidel Castro or erecting a monument to John Wilkes Booth would be just as sensible a project as the one you propose. We are willing to forgive and forget, but to make a hero of the pilot Fujita is senseless."
In a March 1, 1962, editorial, however, the Curry Coastal Pilot came out in favor of the idea, challenging townspeople to be "big enough to forgive and forget."
The Jaycees voted to go ahead with the project, a decision applauded by President Kennedy, who congratulated the group for "their efforts to promote international friendship and good will."
The community raised enough money to bring Mr. Fujita, his wife and their son, Yas, 26, to the festival. During their visit, a local pilot flew Mr. Fujita and his son over the area where he had dropped the bombs. At a banquet in his honor, Mr. Fujita presented the city of Brookings with his family's 400-year-old samurai sword "in the interests of peace," according to the Curry Coastal Pilot.
"It is in the finest of samurai traditions to pledge peace and friendship by submitting the sword to a former enemy," said Mr. Fujita at the banquet.
The town also placed a commemorative plaque next to the fir stump that Mr. Fujita's bomb had split when it hit the ground. In return, Mr. Fujita hosted three high school students at his home in Japan in 1985. He wound up visiting Brookings three more times, once to plant a redwood tree at the site of the bombing.
Shortly before his death in 1997, Mr. Fujita was named an honorary citizen of Brookings. After his death, his daughter came to Brookings to scatter his ashes on the redwood tree.
Despite his efforts to mend fences, Mr. Fujita remained a controversial figure in Brookings until the time of his death. "There were hard feelings among World War II veterans," said Mrs. Jacques. "One World War II veteran wrote a letter to the paper to say we had built a shrine to the Japanese and it should be taken down. Some people still don't speak to each other over it."
Still, most of the community was proud of its honorary citizen, a dangerous enemy who became a cherished friend.
"He was such a nice man," said Mrs. Jacques, who has displayed the sword in the library. "He really wanted to promote peace."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide