True or False: the mainland of the United States was bombed during World War II.
No, this is not a trick reference to Pearl Harbor. This is the 48 contiguous states being hit by bombs during World War II.
The answer is true. The United States was bombed during World War II. In fact, it was bombed twice — by the same Japanese pilot.
And, to add a final twist, this pilot later apologized for his actions.
So little has been made of this– primarily because there were no casualties and the bombing mission itself turned out to be inconsequential — very few people remember it.
Here’s the story:
It was September 9, 1942, nine months after Pearl Harbor and five months after the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo — the latter being a payback Japanese mainland bombing by 16 American B-25’s under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. It was strike vs. strike and the ante on both sides was extremely high.
Japanese leadership had determined that a surprise attack on the west coast of the United States would prove to be a significant distraction. US troops might have to be dispatched home to protect the continental shore.
The plan, however, lacked much operational strategy: a single plane, carrying only a pilot and navigator, was to be assembled on the deck of a submarine and then catapulted off to drop two 168 pound fire bombs in the forests of Oregon. The objective was to set forest fires that might ultimately engulf nearby cities.
The sub was located 15 miles off the coast of Oregon — not far from the hamlet of Brookings.
Why this spot and not the more target rich cities of San Francisco or Los Angeles?
The thinking was apparently centered on the defenselessness of the remote, unguarded Oregon coastline. Since the plane was only going to be cruising at 90 mph, it much too slow to engage the more heavily fortified metropolises to the south. Second, the Japanese were counting on the element of surprise: why would forests in southern Oregon attract any incoming? Last, it was hoped that this mission would serve as a test run for future, more substantial Japanese offensives.
Thirty year old Nobuo Fujita was at the controls when the plane took off in the dawn hours that fall day. Nine miles east of Brookings, over a thickly wooded area, he ordered his navigator to drop the bombs. Flying low, he quickly maneuvered back to the sub — his payload fell on the wet Oregon turf and caused a minor fire which was easily extinguished.
Three weeks later, Fujita repeated his flight with the same results. Four bombs were dropped, all of them fizzled.
America had been caught off guard. Alarm spread up and down the coast, but the incidents appeared to be isolated. Fujita, in time, would be identified as the only axis pilot to actually bomb the mainland.
A small chapter in a much more intense conflict seemed closed and forgotten by V-J Day.
After the war, Fujita returned to the Tokyo area, but he could not shake a feeling he developed about the bombing mission in Oregon — at first proud of his efforts, Fujita began to feel shame about his intention to kill.
Fate intervened. In 1962, a civic minded group in Brookings tracked Fujita down and invited him to be guest of honor at their Memorial Day parade. It was a move designed to generate publicity, but it evolved into an unforgettable reconciliation.
Fujita and his family attended — the family somewhat surprised, as Fujita had never mentioned the Brookings flights to them until the invitation arrived.
A landmark moment came at a banquet honoring Fujita: he presented the city a 400 year old family heirloom katana (samurai sword). It was the same sword he had carried with him in the plane on the bombing missions some twenty years earlier.
“It was a tremendous act of contrition,” one Oregonian was quoted as saying.
Fujita made a total of three trips back to the US before his death, at the age of 85, in 1997. Part of his cremains were spread by his daughter at the location where the bombs detonated.
“I hope a day would come when everyone could overcome their differences through talking, not fighting,” Fujita said.
During his last years, Fujita raised thousands of charity dollars for the local Oregon library — the location where his samurai sword is displayed today.
Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, a Junior Library Guild Selection, tells Fujita’s story. As the book says, his final mission in life was promoting peace.