When The Japanese Bombed Oregon During World War II

By | September 20, 2021

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The Japanese plane Kamikaze. (adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images)

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, all Americans were on high alert. There was a real fear that the Japanese military could hit other locations in the United States. That fear became a reality 10 months later, when a lone Japanese pilot in a floatplane launched the country's first wartime air attack on the U.S. mainland by dropping a bomb in an Oregon forest.

Bombing Oregon

After the success of their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military hoped to strike other key targets on the North American mainland. One target they discussed was the Panama Canal because of its strategic location, but they also wanted to hit points along the West Coast. Specifically, Warrant Flying Officer Nubuo Fujita wanted to use a floatplane launched from a long-range submarine aircraft carrier that had been designed to attack the Panama Canal to drop incendiary bombs in the forests around Brookings, Oregon with the hope that a huge wildfire would divert manpower and resources from the Pacific theater.

It worked—kind of. When the submarine surfaced near the Oregon-California border on September 9, 1942, Fujita released one bomb on Oregon's Mount Emily (a second, which turned out to be a dud, was released but never found), igniting a forest fire roughly nine miles outside Brookings. Fortunately, he failed to factor in the notoriously damp and rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest. The woods were simply too wet to create the type of disaster he envisioned, and members of the U.S. Forest Service based in Brookings, who witnessed the bombing from their position in a fire lookout tower, easily extinguished the blaze.

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Nubuo Fujita, sometime before 1945. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Fujita's Return

After the war, Fujita opened a hardware store and settled into civilian life. He never considered returning to Oregon, but in 1962, he was invited to visit Brookings. Naturally, he was suspicious of the invitation, but after the U.S. government assured him it wasn't a trap, Fujita was eager to make amends with the people of the Pacific Northwest. Still, he was so concerned about his reception in the state that he brought with him a 400-year-old katana, a treasured family heirloom, with the intention to redeem his family's honor by performing seppuku

To his surprise, however, the people of Brookings greeted him with kindness and respect, prompting him to instead present his sword as a token of friendship to the city and get involved in the local community. He sponsored students from the local high school to visit Japan and planted a tree at the site of the bombing as a symbol of peace and friendship, among many other community projects he undertook on his frequent visits. His sword, initially displayed at city hall, was moved in 1995 to the town's new library, which Fujita had helped to fundraise.