World War II

BURNING AMBITION

Japanese submarine I-25 bobbed in the ocean swells 33 miles off the Oregon coast as the submarine’s crew wrapped up flight preparations. It was the early morning of September 9, 1942; from the cockpit of his floatplane aboard the sub, 31-year-old Warrant Flight Officer Nobuo Fujita watched as a faint orange glow suffused the eastern horizon. Before sliding the canopy closed, he reached down to pat the ancestral samurai sword stowed beside his seat—a talisman always by his side on operations. At 5:35 a.m., the catapult officer pulled the launch lever and the little Yokosuka E14Y shot into the air.

As Fujita gained altitude, he could begin to make out the undulating contours of the Klamath Mountains. It was there that he was headed; there that he intended to drop the two incendiary bombs mounted beneath his wings. His mission was nothing less than to set southern Oregon’s vast, virgin forests of Douglas fir ablaze in hopes of creating an unstoppable maelstrom that would devastate the region, destroy towns, kill people. It was Japan’s intention to spread panic among mainland Americans by demonstrating that the empire could bring the war directly to their doorsteps. If he pulled it off, he’d be the first person to ever bomb the Lower 48.

NOBUO FUJITA stood barely five feet tall. His chiseled face revealed a calm, confident countenance. Born in 1911 on a farm in central Japan, he was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in 1931 and after boot camp went to the Kasumigaura Naval Air School. In the mid-1930s he tested experimental seaplanes and in 1937 served six months in China flying rescue missions along the Yangtze River. He returned to Japan the following year as a flight instructor, joining the submarine aviation unit in 1941. Before deploying, his father entrusted him with the family’s precious, centuries-old sword.

Fujita’s launch platform, submarine , was one of 29 “Type B” boats designed to

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