A Story of Reconciliation
In the early hours of September 9, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced off the coast of Oregon. On board was pilot Nobuo Fujita, who was about to embark on a unique and dangerous mission - He had orders to bomb the American mainland.
Why was a pilot onboard a submarine? Well, the I-25 had a top-secret design that made it unlike traditional submarines: A water-tight hangar on its deck held a small, collapsible float plane. After the submarine surfaced, the plane was quickly assembled on deck and Fujita boarded. He then braced himself as a pneumatic catapult launched him into the air. Fujita always carried with him his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword, and it sat beside him now as he flew towards the Oregon coast.
Nobuo Fujita, WWII Japanese Pilot
Fujita flew past the small town of Brookings, Oregon, and dropped incendiary bombs on the nearby forests. But recent Oregon rainfall prevented any serious fire from starting as Fujita and the plane returned to the submarine. The event was largely forgotten as WWII raged on. It would be 20 years before this incident suddenly re-entered Fujita’s life.
In 1962, the young men of the Brookings-Harbor Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) wondered about the man who had bombed the forests just outside their town. They were looking for a project to promote their town, and to fulfill their creed: “The brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations.” They decided to track down this pilot and invite him and his family to their annual Azalea Festival. It seemed like the perfect project to reflect the growing friendship between the U.S. and Japan in the 1960’s. However, when news of the invitation broke, Brookings was immediately divided between those who supported the visit, and those who did not. The controversy was heated, and soon gained national attention. President John F. Kennedy even lent his voice to the debate, in support of the visit.
Brookings Azalea Festival, May 24-25, 1962
Despite the controversy, the Jaycees pursued the plan, and when the Fujita family arrived in May of 1962, the visit was a success. They were greeted warmly by the people of Brookings and a flurry of journalists who traveled from all over the country to cover the event. Mr. Fujita was so touched by his reception that he presented the people of Brookings with his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword, saying, “It’s in the finest of samurai traditions to pledge peace and friendship by submitting the sword to a former enemy.”
This visit would begin a 35-year-long relationship between the Fujita family and the people of Brookings. Mr. Fujita would work tirelessly to reinforce his pledge for peace, and on the 50th anniversary of his bombing, he planted a redwood “peace tree” at the old bombsite. While it stands at the site of his attack, it ultimately stands in symbolism of peace and goodwill between two countries that used to be at war. Samurai in the Oregon Sky chronicles how Mr. Fujita came to call Brookings, Oregon not his former target, but his “second home.”