At 2:25 a.m. on Feb. 25, 1942, the people of Los Angeles woke up to sirens. Every light in the city was extinguished. Spotlights searched the sky above as bombs exploded overhead, filling the horizon with smoke and scattering debris across the city.
Dressed in their pajamas, Angelenos stood on their porches, squinting upward to see the battle breaking out above them. In the streets, cars and trollies remained frozen where they had been as the alarms sounded, the thunderous roar of more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition exploding against the still night sky.
Finally, the “all clear” was given at 7:21 a.m. In its wake, the air raid left five dead, many injured, and houses damaged by falling shells. What it did not leave, however, was any downed enemy aircraft.
That’s because there hadn’t been enemy aircraft to begin with.
Regardless, the “Battle of Los Angeles” or “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid” as the incident came to be known, left Los Angeles — and the country — shaken.
Despite contradictory explanations for the night’s events – which in turn kicked off more than a half-century of conspiracy theories — the citywide scare demonstrated just how much the world had changed for West Coast Americans after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just a few months earlier.
Pearl Harbor Buries Itself Into America’s Psyche
On Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was ravaged by a surprise attack from the Japanese air force.
Twenty-one U.S. ships were sunk or damaged. One hundred and eighty-eight American planes were ruined. And 2,403 Americans — including 68 civilians — were killed in less than two hours.
What had up to that morning seemed like far-off ongoing struggles overseas now hit the United States on its home turf. And Los Angeles — a major center for plane and Navy ship manufacturing — feared it would be Japan’s next target.
Within a few days, the U.S. declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy, and officially entered World War II.
Paranoia was rampant and before long, the U.S. government began to view its own Japanese citizens with suspicion.
. Feb. 25, 1942.[/caption]
On February 19, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing