THE BOMBING THAT STAYED A SECRET
We are all familiar with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This surprise attack killed thousands of soldiers and brought America into World War II.
Have you heard of the bombs that were dropped on the wooded area of Brookings, Oregon in 1942? Not many people know of this attack because no people were killed. However, the bombs did start fires in the wooded area.
The pilot Nobuo Fujita traveled from Japan to the Oregon coast in a submarine. This was a secret mission. Not even Nobuo’s wife knew of this plan. The crew reassembled the wings on the plane. They loaded 168-pound bombs under each wing of the plane. The plane was catapulted from the sub and flew 15 miles to a wooded area over Brookings, Oregon.
A few people on the ground heard the plane but never dreamed that it was a Japanese plane planning to drop bombs. One bomb exploded, starting small fires that did not spread because of the damp earth. The other bomb buried itself without a trace.
The pilot flew the plane back to the sub and landed on the water. The crew hoisted the plane with a crane. They removed the wings and put everything in a watertight hangar. The sub dove 250 feet.
Four men from the forest lookout stations saw smoke and walked several hours to the fire and put out the flames. They noticed metal fragments with markings in Japanese. The news of this bombing spread through the area and frightened the people. The military assumed that this incident was isolated and did little to defend the coast.
Twenty days after the first bombing, Nobuo did it again. Same plan, same plane. But the bombs failed to explode. If they did, the local people kept quiet about it.
Nobuo returned to Japan and his family. He opened a hardware store and lived a quiet life in Tokyo. He never talked about his Oregon raids. The people of Brookings, Oregon, forgot about the bombs until 1962.
In 1962, the Brookings Jaycees were looking for a way to boost tourism to their quiet town. One brave person suggested that they find the Japanese bomber pilot and invite him to their annual Memorial Day festival. They did just that.
Nobuo accepted their invitation. That was the first his family had heard of what he had done in Oregon.
There was pressure for the Brookings people to cancel this visit. But the Jaycees did not give in. They welcomed Nobuo as a “symbol of reconciliation not just between individuals but between nations.
“Veterans—including the governor of Oregon and president John F. Kennedy—also praised the invitation. Protesters began to open their minds.”
Nobuo was nervous. How could he trust the Americans? What might they do to him? But he thought to refuse would be impolite. So, he prepared for the journey. He took his family sword. If the people of Brookings accepted his apology, he would give the sword to the town. If they did not accept his apology, he would use the sword to “commit seppuku, traditional Japanese suicide by a person overcome with shame.”
Nobuo was relieved to find a large group of people at the airport, welcoming him and his family. At a banquet in Nobuo’s honor, Nobuo and his wife handed over the sword which the library would display. He said, “I never imagined I could be back in Japan alive after my flight over America, and I never dreamed I could visit the United States again.”
Later, Nubuo met one of the men who had put out his fire. A local pilot flew Nobuo over the forest he had bombed and let him take the controls for a short while. Nubuo said he would host Brookings residents in Japan one day.
Twenty-three years later, at Nobuo’s expense, three Brookings high school students traveled to Japan. Nobuo toured his guests around his country. Nobuo said, “The war is finally over for me.”
Nobuo made three more trips back to Brookings. In 1992 one day ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of his first bombing, he planted a tree seedling at the bomb site. He donated thousands of dollars to the town so the library could buy children’s books that teach other cultures. “He wondered if World War II would have been different had his generation grown up reading books like those.”
In 1997, Nobuo was not well. A town representative flew to Tokyo to tell Nobuo in person that Brookings had made him an honorary citizen. The next day, Nobuo was at peace and he died.
The following year, as Nobuo had asked, some of his ashes were sprinkled over the bomb site. At the time of his death, Nobuo was the only person who had bombed the United States mainland from a plane. He hoped no one would ever take that title from him.
(This true story is from THIRTY MINUTES OVER OREGON by Marc Tyler Nobleman. The author learned of Nubuo when he read Nobuo’s 1997 obituary in NEW YORK TIMES.)