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Feature Stories

Remembering the Battle of Long Beach

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 4
2/21/2014


By Rebecca Y. Mata

Feb. 24 and 25 mark the anniversary of the alleged air raid that caused panic throughout Los Angeles County in 1942, just months after the attack at Pearl Harbor.

The United States Army ordered Los Angeles into a blackout. Civilians lie in darkness, many huddled in their homes, horrified as search lights singled out an object in the sky; a potential enemy air raid.

Long Beach resident, David Jacobson, 86, was 14 at the time, living in California Heights. He volunteered as a messenger for the local air raid warden, his next-door neighbor. “[Being] a messenger was kind of a patriotic thing for people to do back in those days,” said Jacobson.

“We were all aroused by the loud exploding of anti-aircraft shells,” recalled Jacobson. “Looking up high in the sky above us was a small illuminated spot with several search lights focused on it.”

Equipped with only his standard issue arm band and silver helmet bearing the air raid messenger emblem, young Jacobson, eager to report to the air raid warden, ran outside his home. His mother acted quickly, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him back inside, where they waited all night.

“The next morning we found several chunks of jagged shrapnel in our yard and in the street,” said Jacobson.

Norma Jacobson, 83, was 12 when the blast of anti-aircraft shells rained down on her home in Signal Hill. “That night they had the air raid I was with my folks, and we stayed in a closet until three in the morning,” recalled Jacobson. “We were so scared; we didn’t know what was going on.”

Though the coast was not fired on that night, there were six casualties “caused by the falling shrapnel and unexploded ordinance that rained in a 40-mile arc from Santa Monica to Long Beach,” according to The Great Los Angeles Air Raid website. The California State Military Museum states that along with shrapnel-related deaths, some died in car accidents due to the blackout and one person died of heart failure from over excitement.

David Jacobson recalls the controversy surrounding the air raid event. “The Army knew what it was,” said Jacobson. Some thought it might have been an army training exercise, displayed to keep citizens on their toes and prepared for an actual attack, according to History’s documentary, “Ancient Aliens.”

Many claimed they saw planes heading toward the coast. According to The Great Los Angeles Air Raid website, J.H. McClelland, Long Beach chief of police in 1942, observed the alleged attack from the rooftop of the Long Beach Civic center with high-powered binoculars. McClelland claimed he saw planes heading toward Redondo Beach.

Others insist it was a single object, possibly a Japanese balloon bomb or a weather balloon, though none were ever recovered. Some believe the incident was a government conspiracy. According to the documentary “Ancient Aliens,” several who witnessed the event claimed that the unidentified object in the sky may have been an extraterrestrial alien spacecraft.

“My best guess is that it was a barrage balloon,” said David Jacobson. Barrage balloons were 60-feet-long suspended balloons, tethered around coastal areas by steel cables. They were used heavily during World War II for safeguarding the coast from low-flying enemy aircraft. Many believe the unidentified flying object was nothing more than a floating barrage balloon disconnected from its tether.

The alleged air raid came just a day after an attack at Goleta, Calif., just an hour north of Los Angeles. A Japanese submarine fired upon an oil refinery. Though none were harmed, the proximity of the attack and recent memory of Pearl Harbor had the entire South Bay on edge.

On Saturday, Feb. 22, Fort MacArthur Museum will host “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942: An exciting reenactment of a historic controversy” in San Pedro. The event includes dinner and will feature Dean Mora and the Fort MacArthur Officers Orchestra.

According to their website, Fort MacArthur Museum devotes itself to the preservation and interpretation of Fort MacArthur’s history from 1914 to 1974. For more information on this upcoming event, visit www.ftmac.org or call (310) 548-2631.

rebecca@longbeachcomber.com