February 24 – Anniversary of WWII's Battle of Los Angeles

Posted on February 24, 2017

Do you know about the Great Los Angeles Air Raid, which occurred on this date in 1942?

I'd never heard about it, and I was born and lived all my life near Los Angeles, California -- so I would certainly have thought I would've heard about a World War II battle here!

Of course, there's a reason that we don't hear much about it...

...It was a false alarm. In other words, it was a mistake!

It was late in the day. Something ominous appeared in the sky....

If you know a fair bit about WWII, you know that the United States didn't enter the war until Japan attacked a U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. Since Los Angeles is on the west coast of North America, it's one of the closest continental states to Japan, and Californians were honestly worried about  a possible Japanese attack. 

It turned out that they were right to worry; Japanese submarines bombarded some oil fields near Santa Barbara just a few months after the Pearl Harbor attack. Even though nobody died, and only a little bit of property damage resulted from the explosive shells, everyone was very keyed up and fearful after the 20-minute-long attack.

So, when an ominous something was spotted in the nighttime skies over Los Angeles - THE VERY NEXT DAY! - of course people jumped to the conclusion that it was a Japanese plane.

Air raid sirens sounded!

A total blackout was ordered, so everybody turned off every light in their homes and shops. 

American forces launched an anti-aircraft barrage at the mysterious something. Now that they were studying the sky so hard, they noticed all kinds of other somethings that were, they thought, almost surely Japanese aircraft. The U.S. forces shot at those things, too. 

Pilots rushed to their aircraft but, thank goodness, they didn't start flying around just yet.

After about an hour of shooting, it was determined that there was no further danger, and the "all clear" was sounded. The blackout order was lifted.

It turns out, there were no Japanese planes!

It turns out that the first something spotted in the sky was a meteorological balloon, and that the rest was "war nerves" and shooting at vague moving lights that were actually the result of others' shots!

Sadly, even though it was a false alarm, five people died. Three people were killed in car crashes determined to have happened because of all the fear and chaos. Two people died of hear attacks -- the stress of the hour-long "battle" against nothing was enough to, basically, scare them to death.

Within hours the Secretary of the Navy held a press conference and explained that the entire incident was  a false alarm. 

It's tragic that understandable fear turned
into unreasonable -- no, horrific! --
prejudice and discrimination.
Of course, that didn't stop people from worrying. And unfortunately it didn't stop people from being horribly hateful, in their fear, to Japanese Americans who lived in their communities but who were not guilty of anything! And unfortunately it didn't stop the government from grabbing the lands and businesses of these Japanese Americans, and locking them up in internment camps.

And it didn't stop people from speculating on the incident. Some thought that the government had used commercial (and American!) airplanes to spook the people and to create panic. Some thought that there was something a little "off," and that whatever the government had done wrong was being covered up. Some even thought that whatever was being shot at was really UFOs -- and that they were alien spaceships! Check out this photo (which apparently has been altered to look like a flying saucer!).

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