Bomb, crash connect Brookings to war
June 12, 2001 11:00 pm
Fujita visits the display of his family's Samurai sword at the community library. ().
Fujita visits the display of his family's Samurai sword at the community library. ().

During World War II, Curry County people joined in other community wide drives and collected tin cans, oil products, paper, and fats for the war efforts. Then suddenly the war struck home and made international headlines.

Curry County Gets

First Jap Bomb to Fall

in Continental U.S.

First hostile bombs to hit mainland United States were dropped in Curry County last Wednesday morning, September 9, when an unidentified plane, presumably Japanese, dropped an incendiary bomb near Mt. Emily, near Brookings, in a wild and heavily timbered region. Howard Gardner and George Widney, who were on duty at the Mt. Emily observation post. They saw the plane as it circled the mountain station as did Bob Larson, one of the fire prevention guards, who happened to be at the station. The plane passed over Brookings, circled the area in the vicinity of Mt. Emily, and returned seaward. The whole flight took not more than 15 or 20 minutes. Curry County Reporter, Sept. 17, 1942.

Twenty years afterward Time Magazine reviewed the incident:

Stealthily, the submarine's periscope broke water. Inside the boat an aviation warrant officer gazed through the eyepiece. Through prismoid glass, he saw a sandy coastline, a haze-covered mountain range and, dead ahead, the unmistakable shape of Oregon's Cape Blanco lighthouse. The time was dawn on September 9, 1942, and the sub was the 1,950-ton Japanese I-25, on station 25 days after leaving Yokosuka. With a smile, Chief Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita surrendered the periscope, while above him, in a watertight compartment on the forecastle deck, waited his Geta float plane. In it, he was about to become the only Japanese flyer to bomb the U.S. mainland in World War II ...

The idea had been conceived by the Japanese imperial general staff, still smarting from General Jimmy Doolittle's Tokyo raid. To retaliate, the Japanese hatched a plan to set the Oregon forests afire; they expected that the flames would spread to the cities and panic the entire West Coast. To carry out the dangerous mission, the planners picked Fujita, a seasoned Geta pilot with 10 years' naval service and more than 3,000 flying hours behind him.

Fujita pored over charts captured at Wake Island. He spent the Pacific crossing reviewing plans, writing a will, cleaning his service pistol in case the mission failed and he had to kill himself. Off Oregon, the pilot had to wait a week for suitable catapulting weather. When it came, he made one 2 -hour bombing run by daylight, a second 20 days later in the dark. Three of his bombs were duds; the fourth started a small blaze that was quickly spotted and doused by forest rangers. The raid made headlines in Japan, but Fujita got no promotion, no bonus, no glory. Time Magazine, May 25, 1962.

When the facts leaked out, local people looked on the event as a murderous part of the war effort and were hostile to the then-unknown Japanese aviator. But 20 years later another generation, in a new era of international understanding, saw him in quite a different light. In doing so, the Brookings Jaycees created quite a stir.

Early in 1962 they decided to invite that aviator, Nobuo Fujita, to come here as a guest at the annual Azalea Festival. Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce members agreed that Fujita's appearance in the Festival would bring this community world-wide publicity for a second time. A fund-raising campaign for $3,000 was organized.

Almost immediately heavy opposition developed. Some persons quoted in the press protested that "He could have killed us." He tried to burn us up. I think the Japs should stay over there and we here."

The Adjutant and the Quartermaster of the Brookings World War I Veterans wrote to the Jaycees:

"We were shocked to learn of your plan to bring the Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita, who bombed Mt. Emily, to Brookings for the Azalea Festival ... Had his bomb not been a dud and hit our business section and one of our schools, would you still invite him ...? To us, an initiation to Fidel Castro or erecting a monument to John Wilkes Booth would be just as sensible a project as the one you propose. We are willing to forgive and forget, but to make a hero of pilot Fujita is senseless."

In response, the Jaycees issued a statement, which read in part:

"The proposed project originated eight months ago. At that time it was presented to the local Jaycees as a project falling within its International Relations portfolio. The essence being that by our actions, our international relations with the people of Japan would be favorably affected. At the same time, the resultant publicity of the project would draw attention of the United States and other countries as well, to this small community, which had momentarily raised itself above its immediate problems and was actively engaged in an endeavor for the benefit of all mankind. The Jaycee creed states that The brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations. This is especially significant in the present world situation; if the world is ever to know lasting peace then men of all races, creeds and walks of life must learn to live together."

In an editorial titled "Much Ado About Nobuo" the Curry Coastal Pilot concluded that:

In a nation which prides itself on its religious backgrounds and elevated educational processes, this issue puts everyone in Brookings to the test: Whether we are "big" enough to forgive and forget or whether we allow personal prejudices, business competitiveness, and past incidents to becloud our judgment. The Pilot, March 1, 1962

The Ministerial Association backed the project. The Grange took a "neutral stand," while the Parent-Teacher Association went on record in favor. The Keep Oregon Green Committee suggested that the $3,000 cost be given instead to its organization to carry on a forest fire prevention program.

Despite strong local opposition, the Jaycees voted unanimously to go ahead. Fujita was invited, along with his wife and their son Yas, aged 26. The Chamber of Commerce pledged $500, giving a big boost to the fund raising drive. Outside contributions came from around the country. Through a White House spokesman, President John Kennedy congratulated the Jaycees "for their efforts to promote international friendship and goodwill by inviting Mr. Nobuo Fujita to visit the United States."

The money was raised, and the Fujitas came. Their visit was rated a huge success by Jaycee officials and most of the residents of Brookings. Local pilot William Landis flew Fujita and his son over the very terrain where he had dropped the bombs 20 years before. That was Wheeler Ridge, about four miles southeast of Mt. Emily.

The event peaked at an evening banquet when Fujita presented to the City of Brookings with his family's cherished 400-year-old Samurai sword "in the interests of peace." He carried the sword was strapped to the seat of his airplane during his raids. "This is the finest possible way of closing the story," said Fujita. "It is in the finest of samurai traditions to pledge peace and friendship by submitting the sword to a former enemy." That sword is now on display in the Chetco Community Public Library.

Twelve years afterward his son, Yas, returned to Brookings and hiked into the forest to see the commemorative plaque next to the fir tree stump which his father's bomb had split and ignited when it hit ground.

The Fujita connection has continued through the rest of the century. Fujita hosted three high school students in Japan in 1985. He returned to Brookings on the 50th anniversary of the bombing to plant a redwood tree at the site, and returned two years later when his samurai sword, a gift to the city, was moved to a special display at the Chetco Community Public Library. He also donated $8,000 in childrens books for the library.

When he died in 1997, he had just been named an honorary citizen of Brookings by the city council.

Navy Plane Crash

In 1945, Brookings had another direct connection to the war when a Navy amphibian airplane with eight men aboard crashed in the upper reaches of the remote South Fork of the Chetco River during a storm. Henry Payne, trapping in the vicinity, heard the plane and the crash. The next day he sent word to Max Brainard, who phoned the police who called the Forest Service who, in turn, asked the Coast Guard for help. A search plane was sent out and spotted the wreckage. Coast Guard observers reported that eight head of packstock were needed at once in Brookings to bring out the bodies of the dead men.

Two days later, although the weather was stills storming, two Naval officers, including a doctor, came to Brookings from the Naval Air Station at Arcata, California. They contacted the Coast Guard for help and went to Henry Paynes ranch near the upper Low Water Bridge on the Chetco River and contacted Payne and ask him to guide them. Even so, they were unable to locate the plane and returned to Brookings.

Meanwhile, photographs taken from the plane crewmen who had spotted the wreck were examined again. However, they had been made from several different angles and at a rather low attitude, so it was difficult to locate the spot. Fred Gardner and others, however, had intimate knowledge of the Chetco country and were able to review the pictures and located the plane crash area. Gardner agreed to take three local men and locate the plane on the ground. A pack train with supplies, additional help, and Navy personnel met them at Gardner's camp on the South Fork of the Chetco River. Using plane-dropped flares and radio communication, they found the plane. The eight men were buried at the site because it was so rugged and so nearly inaccessible.

In 1955, interest began to generate to create a permanent shrine at the grave site. Through the effort and cooperation of local residents, the Navy and the Forest Service, a concrete marker was built. Roy Weideman worked on the construction and gave much of his time to ensure that this would be a lasting memorial. It includes eight bronze plaques provided by the Navy, inscribed with the names of the men buried there.

V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was finally achieved in May, 1945. Four months later, V-J Day (Victory over Japan) concluded four terrible years of deprivation and tragedy. According to residents here, there was no celebration of any public kind, only a sense of relief.

No ringing bells, no crowds in the streets as exhibited at the end of World War I. There was only a tremendous sense of relief that at last the war was over.

As before, some of our boys would never return.

Later Wars, Hot and Cold

After the Korean War (1950-53) came the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and a major Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Tension between the two nations had been building up for at least a year before that deadly challenge. Civil Defense measures were urged upon every community in our nation, even those as small and isolated as our Chetco area.

In September, 1961, Brookings Mayor Fell Campbell called a public meeting to begin planning a civil defense program for the protection of Brookings-Harbor so that the community would be ready to meet any emergency. He did that after returning from a two-day statewide meeting in Salem. Here the Curry County Director of Defense spoke, and a 15-member City Advisory Committee was formed, led by Roy Weideman. At the Salem meeting, Mark Hatfield, then governor of Oregon, had "urged all city leaders to prepare for survival by building a community fallout shelter, getting people to store two weeks food supply, and to get medical supplies."

In October the City Planning Commission began studying plans for the preparation of family and group fallout shelters. Once such was located on the residential property of Bill and Florence Godsey, up the Chetco River's north bank.

One year later the Pilot newspaper conducted an informal survey of the local defense preparations and concluded that apparently many residents remained apathetic about Civil Defense measures. Residents indicated only mild concern about taking any precautionary steps or making detailed plans.

Then came Viet Nam and Cambodia. Five young men from our area died there.

In our community the Veterans of Foreign Wars and its Ladies Auxiliary, as well as the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and the World War I Auxiliary continue to remind us that the people of the Chetco Valley have always responded to a national call to arms and will continue to do so.

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