The Great American Air Raid of 1942
Near the dawn of February 25th, 1942 1,400 12.8 pound explosives were fired into the Los Angeles night sky.
75 years later, the debate still thrives. Between conspiracy theories of UFO or the simple presence of a “weather balloon,” reports are still being fashioned, reiterated, and rediscovered about what actually occurred that night off the Long Beach bay.
The Fort MacArthur Museum holds much of the artillery used to defend the west coast during WWII, including what was used on February 25th, which is referred to as “The Great American Air Raid.” The museum annually hosts a fundraising event reenacting that infamous defense, a WWII mystery that continues to stir conversations and whispers.
Pearl Harbor is often pointed to as the root of the problem, the “war nerves” that were circulating even two years after the attack from the Japanese. American soldiers and civilians were healing and retreating from the unforeseen strike. What many call a false alarm by the U.S. Naval intelligence, lead to the controversial raid lasting over fifty minutes and raining debris from Long Beach to Santa Monica.
Entering the Fort MacArthur, you walk by guards on either side dressed in vintage military uniforms. They are almost the first sign, the greeters, to welcoming you into 1942 and leaving 2017 behind. Military tanks, cars, and machinery are displayed throughout the museum grounds. A bunker takes your through the headlines of the incident: “Army Says Alarm Real“, “Anti-aircraft Guns Blast At L.A. Mystery Invader,” and “Air Battle Rages Over Los Angeles.” Each cover article not quite sure of the accounts of that night, regardless of the eyewitness testimonies proclaiming they saw airplanes in the sky, even the Long Beach police chief who saw claimed to saw a “v-shape formation of silver planes.”
What was certain was that war had arrived, and everyone felt it in their own backyard.
However unsettling or mysterious history may be, the preservation in the present is vital. Fort MacArthur museum takes it one step further by transporting all their attendees to that fateful night. Under the guise of a dance: a big band swinging, a leading crooner, and special appearance by The Satin Dollz & The Hollywood Hot Shots, the entertainment for the 75th anniversary was sublime and added anticipation to the big bang.
Intermittently throughout the musical set and dance numbers, our master of ceremonies, “Colonel” Maxwell Demille announced blue alerts, reassuring the crowd that all was well, and lastly calling out a red alert. The roar of the alarm followed by a blackout clutched everyone in silence, awaiting the “raid.” For seven minutes we heard the cracks and successions of round after round of “gunshots.” Ripping through the clear sky, fireworks simulated the explosives of the past giving us a mere idea of the historical crisis.
The cliche goes that “history never dies.” And thanks to the efforts of museums like the Fort MacArthur it won’t. Even the strange, unknown belongs to our great American story. Paying tribute to our chapters through fashion, artifacts, and recreation breathes appreciation and further generates respect.
A fine salute.