We all know the statement made by Franklin D. Roosevelt when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941: “This day shall live in infamy!”
On April 18, 1942 Lt. Col Jimmy Doolittle led sixteen US Air Force B-25B bombers to attack Japan. The planes were launched from the carrier USS Hornet. History books tell us that this bold raid on the Japanese enemy was largely unsuccessful. It did, however, send a clear message to the Japanese that they were vulnerable to attack, and that they had awakened a sleeping giant.
Had any one of us been hanging around inside the palace of Emperor Hirohito while he addressed his top military officers, we might have heard the statement: "Our best fighter pilot has come up with a plan,"…..or perhaps something quite similar. Hirohito was enraged at the invasion of Japan’s homeland. He immediately set about to assemble and organize the plan for retaliation. This secret plan ended up being one that would ignite the forests of America’s North West mainland using incendiary bombs. It was thought that burning up our forests would instill fear among USA’s citizens. It was believed that this would destroy morale, and put all Americans in a state of panic. They surely would discourage their government from entering the war.
Small attack pontoon float planes would be disassembled; loaded aboard the Japanese air craft carrier-sub I-25 inside a deck mounted water tight container; assembled and launched by catapult from sea along the Oregon Coastline. After dropping their incendiary bombs, the planes would turn around and head back out to sea. The submarine would then pick them up.
Enter now our main villainess character, Japanese warrant officer and pilot Nubuo Fujita. This famous Japanese fighter pilot was being called upon to lead the invasion against imperialist America. Fujita had presented the plan to Hirohito. In fact it could be said that Fujita was the invasion. It was determined that only a single plane could be discreetly launched from the sub-carrier. Nubuo Fujita was a revered fighter pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy. All agreed the bombing plan would succeed.
Nubuo was disappointed that he would not be part of a larger attack force. He wanted to bomb Los Angeles or San Francisco. He none-the-less took his assignment quite seriously. Fujita and his one man crew (Petty Officer Okuda Shoji) began preparing and training for the mission. On September 9th, Nubuo carried his family’s four hundred year old Samurai sword into the cockpit. Fujita later told our U.S. military that if he was forced down, he could use the sword to end his life rather than be captured by the enemy.
Young Nubuo could not know that he would be heading for the history books. At 6:00 a.m. he and Okuda Shoji lifted off the sub-carrier deck into the sky in their Yokosuka E14Y Glen seaplane, and headed for the Oregon coast. Their target: the small fishing town of Brookings. Brooking’s citizens had no clue that they were in the midst of an enemy air attack. Many later told the military that they did hear the airplane, but no one spotted it.
Fujita's float plane carried 340 pounds of incendiary bombs. The Glen circled the forests around Brookings. He released his fire bombs from eighty two hundred feet. One of the two bombs ended up being a dud. He clearly noted that the second had exploded and had started a small fire. He hoped that soon it would become a blazing inferno.
At the same time, a little past noon, Howard Gardner and Bob Larson, local fire lookouts, radioed in a fire report noting smoke on nearby Wheeler Ridge. The blaze was located and quickly extinguished. Within a few hours the US military and the FBI were on the scene. The U.S Air Force Coastal Patrol ultimately spotted the retreating sub’s course. The I-25 sub came under attack by a USAAF aircraft. The sub was forced to dive and hide on the ocean floor off the coastal town of Port Orford. The I-25 did end up successfully retreating to safety in Japanese waters. Thus concluded the first and only enemy airplane raid over the continental United States.
We now fast-forward to 1962, Brookings, Oregon. Each year the small town of Brookings holds an annual Azalea Festival. Some of the more creative citizens suggested that they attempt to locate for former Japanese pilot. They would invite him to attend the festival as a sort of “forgive and forget” gesture from his former enemies. All expenses would be paid by the town. Of course there would need to be some major assurances that old and retired Nubuo was not being sought as a war criminal.
Things ultimately got worked out, and Nubuo and his wife arrived in Brookings. Nubuo was beside himself with the friendly greeting by the town folks. Expressing his deepest apologies, Nubuo presented his centuries-old Samurai sword to the city of Brookings. It still resides today in the town library. Nubuo met personally with many of the locals, and vowed that upon his return to Japan, he would work hard to organize a visit to his country for some of the local American students. In 1985 Fujita made good on his promise. Three honor students from Brookings Harbor High School were on their way to Japan compliments of the former bomber pilot turned peacemaker.
Nubuo Fujita passed away on Sept 30, 1997. He had been made an honorary citizen of Brookings, Oregon. Many tears were shed on this sad day, both in Brookings and in Japan. In October 1998, his daughter, Yoriko Asakura, buried some of Fujita's ashes at the bomb site.