The night the lights went out: A Halloween Tale

The following is an excerpt from Walking to Forest Grove Copyright 2014 Ken Bilderback

In October 1941, the town buzzed in anticipation of the opening celebration for the Wilson River Highway, but the celebration had to be delayed because although rainfall in the Fall of 1941 was below normal, the dirt portion of the highway had turned to foot-deep mud. Rescheduling the opening, however, soon took a backseat to more urgent matters in preparation for possible war. On Halloween night, the Army was planning a mock air raid on Washington County to test preparedness, just in case the Japanese tried a sneak air raid over the area. More than 100 fighters, bombers, and military surveillance planes would fly over the county, prepared to drop flare “bombs” over any city in which even a single light stayed on. Batteries of anti-aircraft artillery would blast blanks into the night sky to add to the realism.

On Halloween, dozens of volunteers, including the town’s Boy Scout troops, mobilized to stop traffic and go door to door if anyone failed to turn off the lights. Similar parties were organized in other villages in the area, including Cherry Grove, much of which even a year earlier would not have had lights to turn off, but by now the Rural Electrification Administration had brought power back to town. Across the county, residents braced for the air raid sirens to blare in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Gaston and several other towns. The sirens let out their screech just after 10 p.m. Lights went off across the county, as Boy Scouts roamed the streets looking for violators. Forest Grove, officials were proud to report, had not a single light on for the 30 minutes or so until the sirens sounded the all-clear. No flares were dropped on the city by bombers that night. The rest of the county’s cities reported similar success, and only three problems were reported during the massive operation.

First, people living on some of the more remote farms in the area could not hear the sirens, so they didn’t know when to turn off their lights. Second, only one scofflaw was found in the county’s towns and villages; a family in Cherry Grove had ignored the siren. Family members said that after trick or treaters had finished their rounds, they fell asleep in easy chairs and the sirens had failed to arouse them. No “bomb” flare was dropped over Cherry Grove, however, because of the third problem that Halloween night: Fog. The fog was so dense on Halloween night, 1941, that pilots could not see to fly, and the entire fleet of nearly 150 aircraft sat grounded during the air raid drill.

No air raid sirens sounded over Forest Grove less than six weeks later on the night of December 7, 1941, but the next morning the town awoke to the same dreadful news that rocked the rest of the country. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.