By Bill Schlichting
Pilot staff writer
During the predawn hours of Sept. 9, 1942, an airplane was removed from a tube on a Japanese submarine off the Oregon Coast. The plane was assembled and its pilot Nobuo Fujita, and his observer Shojo Okuda became airborne in the Yokosuka E14Y1 aircraft.
There mission? To drop incendiary bombs on the U.S. mainland. A forest conflagration was to ensue, the Japanese thought, cause panic and divert manpower away from the war efforts against Japan during World War II. Perhaps the mission also was revenge for the Doolittle Bombing Raid American fliers bombing Tokyo earlier that year.
After spotting St. George Reef Lighthouse, Fujita was able to get his bearings and head for his target Wheeler Ridge between Mount Emily and the Winchuck River. After circling the area, Okuda released the 162-pound bombs, which exploded in the forest, sending incendiary pellets scattering over an area 100 yards in diameter.
Smoke began to rise from the fire as Fujita piloted the plane back to the rendezvous point with the submarine waiting off the coast. Fujita felt his mission was a success.
Meanwhile, atop Mount Emily, Howard Gardner observed the smoke. He and others quickly extinguished the flames. Two days later, on Sept. 11, unburned pellets were found, showing evidence that the fire was the result of an enemy attack.
Two weeks later, after receiving minor damage by American bombs after it was spotted off the coast, the Japanese submarine surfaced off Cape Blanco in northern Curry County. Fujita and Okuda returned to the skies to drop more bombs on the Grassy Knob Wilderness.
However, this bombing was not successful. No fires were ignited.
The story is a synopsis of information on new interpretive signs recently placed along the Japanese Bombing Site Trail. These signs and newly redesigned trail will be dedicated Thursday, Oct. 2, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
The trailhead is 19 miles from Brookings. In case of severe wind or rain, the trail dedication will be at 9:30 a.m. in the Chetco Community Public Library, 405 Alder St., Brookings.
The dedication will include a short ceremony acknowledging financial donations toward the signs, a new observation deck at the end of the trail and a new bench, made by alumni of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and the city of Brookings.
The following guests have been scheduled to speak at the ceremony: Walt Schroeder, Curry County resident, historian and former four-term Oregon state representative; Akio Egawa, consulate-general of Japan in Portland; American poet and Poet Laureate of the State of Oregon Lawson Fusao Inada, emeritus professor of writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland and an author of five books; Rick Brazell, acting deputy regional forester for the Pacific Northwest region; Scott Conroy, forest supervisor, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest; and Alan Vandiver, Gold Beach district ranger.
After the dedication ceremony, a hike of less than a mile in length one-way will be led by a Forest Service historian to the overlook.
From the overlook, hikers can see the Peace Tree seedling planted by Japanese World War II veterans. This tree replaced a seedling, which did not survive, planted by Fujita in 1992.
After the war, Fujita had become a success businessman in Japan. On a mission of peace, he returned to Brookings in 1962. As a gesture of his remorse, he presented the people of Brookings his family's 400-year-old samurai sword, which he had with him on the plane during the bombing.
Fujita died in 1997. Part of his ashes were scattered at the bombing site. Okuda was killed in action during World War II.