The Spirit of Forgiveness

The date was September 9, 1942. The Soviets and Nazis were duking it out in Stalingrad, and just a few days earlier, US and Australian forces had beaten the Japanese at Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Most Americans were following the war on their radios and in their newspapers, and they pictured a war taking places in faraway lands with strange names like Anzio, El Guettar, and Guadalcanal. So despite all the fear-mongering posters and East Coast blackouts, most probably would’ve been shocked to learn there was a Japanese submarine sitting off the coast of Oregon, just waiting to launch an attack on mainland USA.

The plan was to unpack a small Zero floatplane, catapult it into the air, and have it bomb the woods around the logging town of Brookings. If all went according to plan, the bombs would start massive forest fires, sending Americans into a panic, and drawing the US fleet away from its strongholds in the Pacific islands. The man chosen for the mission was a pilot named Nobuo Fujita, and along with his observer, Shoji Okuda, the two set off toward Oregon, planning to unleash hell.

Only the mission didn’t go according to plan. As it was autumn, the forests were damp and cool and not exactly conducive to forest fires. The bomb took out a few trees but didn’t start any raging blazes. A few weeks later, Fujita returned and dropped two more bombs into the Oregon forest, but while he started a few small fires, the residents of Brookings quickly put them out. Even though the Japanese had three incendiary bombs left, they decide to call off the assault. The invasion of Oregon was over, but the real story was just starting.

In 1962, Fujita was back in Japan, running his own hardware store, when he received a startling invitation. Much to his surprise, the citizens of Brookings had invited him to be the grand marshal of their annual Azalea Festival. The Oregonians wanted to improve American-Japanese relations, and the folks in Brookings had pooled $3,000 together for his flight. As you might expect, Fujita was rather skeptical. After all, he had tried to bomb their town. Worried they might hate him for his wartime activities, he took along the 400-year-old samurai sword he carried into combat. If everything went well, he’d present it to the people of Brookings. If things took a turn for the worse, he’d use it to commit suicide.

Fortunately, the citizens of Brookings were totally sincere in their invitation. They welcomed Fujita into their town with open arms, and the ex-pilot was so moved that he donated $1,000 to the local library to purchase books on Japan, encouraging peace between future generations of Americans and Japanese. In fact, Fujita even promised to pay for several Brookings teens to one day visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Even though he eventually went bankrupt, he scrimped and saved, and in 1985, he sponsored three children as his guests.

This trans-Pacific friendship lasted all the way into the ‘90s, and during his lifetime, Fujita flew to Brookings three more times and even planted a few trees in the spot he dropped his payload. Shortly before his death of lung cancer in September 1997, town officials declared Fujita an “ambassador of good will” and made him an honorary citizen. Today, his katana still hangs in the Brookings Library, a 400-year-old testament to the power of forgiveness.

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