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Oregon: Raider’s Return

3 minute read

Stealthily, the submarine’s periscope broke water. Inside the boat an aviation warrant officer gazed through the eyepiece. Through prismed 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 Sept. 9, 1942, and the sub was the 1,950-ton Japanese 1-25, 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.

This week, 20 years later, Fujita is setting out to visit Oregon again. This time, Fujita, now 50 and a hardware merchant near Tokyo, is coming by invitation. Brookings (pop. 2,632), the nearest town to the Oregon forests that Fujita bombed, has never forgotten its wartime distinction. The town’s Junior Chamber of Commerce is raising $3,000 to bring Fujita, along with his wife Ayako and English-speaking son Yasuyoshi. 25. The Fujitas will participate in a crab feast, an outdoor church service, the annual Azalea Festival parade. They may even fly over the azalea-speckled forests around Mount Emily, where Fujita’s bombs fell.

Last Will & Pistol. Fortunately, Fujita could come to the U.S. without casualties on his conscience—for his bombing mission was a complete flop. The idea had been conceived by an 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 ten years’ naval service and more than 3,000 flying hours behind him.

Fujita pored over charts captured at Wake Island, 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 2½-hr. 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.

“Close the Story.” Packing for his return trip to Oregon, Fujita, a shy, soft-spoken man, has left the war long behind him. He plans to make movies with his 8-mm. camera for his grandchildren to see (“They must grow up into internationalists”). He hopes, with his hosts, to establish a program of summer visits to each other’s country by Japanese and American boys. He is even prepared to apologize for the 1942 raid, and as a token of his regret, he is going to present the Brookings Jaycees with the 400-year-old samurai sword he carried strapped to the seat of his airplane during his raids.

“This is the finest possible way of closing the story,” says Fujita. “It’s in the finest of samurai traditions to pledge peace and friendship by submitting the sword to a former enemy.”

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