Seven years ago Bill McCash walked into the Curry Coastal Pilot office looking for information about Nobuo Fujita, the Japanese pilot who dropped bombs in the Curry County wilderness during World War II.
McCash, who grew up in Coos Bay, wasn't the first person looking for information on Fujita, and the Pilot had a folder stuffed with stories, photos and related research to share with him.
At the time, McCash seemed like just another WWII history buff, looking to satisfy his curiosity about an obscure war event. He was, but that curiosity quickly became an obsession one that led him to publish "Bombs over Brookings," a 118-page book about the bombings and the postwar relationship between Fujita and the Brookings community. (The book is available at Words and Pictures in Brookings, and Gold Beach Books in Gold Beach.)
The story, briefly, is that during WWII, Fujita launched his small airplane from a Japanese submarine off our coast and dropped several incendiary bombs in the forest. His assignment was to start a huge fire and panic the nation. Only one bomb out of five detonated, starting a small and insignificant fire in the hills near Mt. Emily.
But the story doesn't end there. Years later Fujita offered a public apology to the residents of Brookings. In 1962 he visited Brookings, against the wishes of some unforgiving folks, and a relationship blossomed between the repentant pilot and the community.
Fujita donated his samurai sword to the library and visited Brookings three more times before his death in 1997. He was 86 years old. Shortly before his death, he was proclaimed a lasting friend and an honorary citizen of Brookings. His daughter came to Brookings and scattered some of his ashes around a little Redwood tree at the bombsite.
McCash's book recounts this story, paying close attention to details of the bombings and the subsequent response by authorities at the time.
Recently, in what may be the final chapter on McCash's efforts, he donated a complete set of his documentation about the bombings to the University of Oregon Archives. Their online catalog is not updated yet, but the "McCash Files" are available for all researchers, he told me this week.
"I would like to thank everyone who helped me," McCash said. "I give special thanks to Brenda Jacques at the Chetco Community Public Library. I have given many documents to the library over the past six years."
He added, "My goal in publishing "Bombs Over Brookings" was to make the information I found available to everyone. Now, using the McCash Files at the U of O Archives, others can follow my research. To me, that spells success."
In February of 2001, McCash began researching the story of Fujita. He came to Brookings planning to hike into the bombsite, but found the trail closed due to a fallen tree. The bomb site is located 19 east of Brookings on Mt. Emily Road.
Not easily thwarted, McCash headed for the Pilot and the Brookings Community Public Library to see what he could discover there. He also contacting local U.S. Forest Service personnel. He made hundreds of calls to locals who were involved. He put together facts from hard-to-find sources and from archives located across the country.
"When you're researching an obscure topic, the two important things are finding out where the information is and who is willing to help you find it," McCash said. "If an archivist gets interested in your topic, that's like a gold mine."
His request for FBI documents began a three-and-a-half year ordeal, finally culminating in success with help from the Department of Justice. "It was the DOJ that finally pried loose the three memos that I received. The memos helped me understand the relationship between the U.S. Forest Service and Civilian Defense."
After his research was done, McCash self-published his book in 2005.
"The book sales were better than I expected," he said.
"The response from the Brookings area was fantastic. Words and Pictures here in Brookings sold a lot of copies. Pat's support was great."
McCash has learned much about the bombings since that day he walked into the Pilot's office. But, he said, there's always more research to do. However, new information will probably be hard to find.
"I'm always looking for new information, but donating the Bombs Over Brookings documentation to the U of O Archives essentially ends my journey. I've done what I set out to do," he said.
Indeed you have, Bill. And Brookings-Harbor residents now know much more about this fascinating historical event that happened right in our own backyard. Thank you.