The annual Fort MacArthur event that reenacts the 1942 air raid, that despite an official explanation, still has no clear answer to what actually happened or who started it.
In 1888, President Grover Cleveland designated an area overlooking San Pedro Bay as an unnamed military reservation intended to improve the defenses of the expanding Los Angeles harbor area.
Named in honor of Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur, it wasn’t formally opened until October 31, 1914.
The fort was a training center during World War I and the first gun batteries were installed in 1917.
These large gun batteries and the level of noise they created when fired…
…were extremely unpopular with the surrounding communities and by the end of WWII most of them had already been removed.
A small section of the former United States Army installation remains in military use by the United States Air Force as a housing and administrative annex.
The Coast Guard and the Marine Exchange of Southern California, lease this section to use as their control tower for vessels at sea.
There’s lots of other intersting things to find if you know where to look.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Fort MacArthur to me is all the underground tunnels that exists beneath it.
Everytime I visit, I search for a way in…
…but I never seem to be able to find a way in, that is until one of my most recent visits. I literally almost stumbled into an access portal while searching one of the hillsides but since I didn’t come prepared to breach the darkness, I had to abort the mission, which seems to be a running theme when I visit the Fort.
There’s been three different occasions where I’ve been unable to visit the Ft. MacArthur Museum because of filming going on or because of the museums limited hours (12-5pm TUE/THU/SAT/SUN). After so many fails, I needed a win, so I decided to go BIG…
…and there’s nothing BIGGER than the museum’s annual “Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942” event.
Which celebrates one of the most fascinating and controversial events in Los Angeles history.
Where thousands of people from around LA (and beyond) come together to recreate the atmosphere of a 1942 social, that is later interrupted by the reality of war.
This isn’t some corny little theme party where hardly anyone dresses up…
…this is a full fledged, all in celebration where at least 80-90% of the guests are rock’n WWII inspired clothing.
They even have period automobiles…
…sand bagged guard shacks…
…and live entertainment.
They even had the museum open so I could finally check it out!
But the best was yet to come…
…and it wasn’t the amazing sunset over the Pacific, although that too was pretty fucking amazing.
No, it was something else coming over the Pacific…
…or was it?
The event took place in the early hours of Feb. 25, 1942, just over three months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War II. Air raid sirens began going off as anti-aircraft guns and searchlights began combing the skies over L.A. as they hunted for rumored enemy aircraft, but none were spotted or shot down. The incident was covered extensively by local and national press, but no one could give a satisfactory explanation of what precipitated the alarm.
While there is no conclusive proof that the Japanese or anyone else attacked Los Angeles on Feb. 25, 1942, Santa Barbara, CA was the subject of a Japanese raid just two days earlier. A Japanese sub prowling the waters off the California coast fired several shells at targets in the area, causing minimal damage but initiating the invasion scare that followed.
The panic in Los Angeles was caused when a number of witnesses reportedly sighted a large, round object in the skies over the west side of LA. The object was barraged with more than 1,400 shells from anti-aircraft guns, with no visible effect, until it eventually drifted south toward Long Beach and vanished from view.
Speculation ran rampant as to its cause. Some people suggested that the Japanese were launching planes from a secret base in Mexico, while others theorized that they had developed a submarine capable of carrying aircraft.
While the Army initially attributed it to “unidentified planes” over Southern California, the secretary of the Navy said the event was the result of “war nerves” and a false alarm. It wasn’t until 1983, more than 40 years later, that the military concluded that the incident was possibly caused by a drifting weather balloon.
Although many eyewitnesses reported seeing a single, large unidentified object over L.A., a number of others also reported spotting anywhere from 25 to 200 planes “swarming” over the metropolitan area. But not a single bomb was dropped, and not a single enemy fighter was ever brought down.
Despite the official explanation, no real answer to what or who started the Battle of Los Angeles has ever been found, but you know what, who cares? I survived the 2016 version of the event and much like the survivors of the 1942 version, I may not be able to explain exactly what happened but I know that something did. For more information about the Fort MacArthur Museum and The Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942 2017, please visit Fort MacArthur Museum.