Hero of Pearl Harbor

Please read before drawing conclusions.

(Note: The following story is true, but some of the sources are more reliable than others. I have attempted to resolve various discrepancies in detail.)

All lay quiet in the airfield and harbor below. The commander pulled back the canopy and checked his watch. 7:49 a.m. He reached for his flare gun and fired a green flare, the signal to attack. Then he told his radioman to send back to the carrier the code words, “Tora, Tora, Tora” (“Tiger, Tiger, Tiger”). Surprise was complete.

Observing the carnage below, he later wrote, “As smoke began to billow and the proud battleships, one by one, started tilting, my heart was almost ablaze with joy.”  Born in 1902, Mitsuo Fuchida was raised on Japanese nationalism and anger at U. S. policies. He so admired Adolf Hitler that at one time he grew a small moustache to emulate him. Privileged to attend the Japanese Naval Academy, he trained to be a carrier pilot. At age 39, Fuchida was Japan’s most experienced Navy pilot, and commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was the height of his career.

As the Japanese swept across the Pacific, back in the United States, young Peggy Covell learned that her parents were among eleven missionaries executed in the Philippines. At first, she hated the Japanese. But soon she realized that her parents would have been the first to forgive them and pray for their souls. Following their example, she became a volunteer at the nearest prisoner of war camp, ministering to Japanese POWs.

Early in 1942, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle of the Army Air Corps won approval for a daring secret mission: to bomb Tokyo. While not inflicting much actual damage, the raid would bolster U.S. morale and shake Japanese confidence by demonstrating that their own capital was not beyond reach. On April 18, Doolittle launched 16 medium bombers from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet, sailing off the coast of Japan. The bombers, however, would not be able to return to the carrier. Instead, the crews would have to crash-land or parachute into occupied China, and do their best to avoid capture.

Corporal Jacob DeShazer was a crewman on the last bomber to take off. His plane bombed some oil tanks and an industrial building, then headed for China. DeShazer survived the parachute jump but was soon captured and imprisoned. He was to endure torture, abuse, and neglect at the hands of the Japanese for 40 months. During this time, several of the Doolittle Raiders were executed. One of his fellow crewmen died of disease and starvation. DeShazer was kept in solitary confinement.

He could hardly contain his rage at his captors, and thought at times that he would go crazy. Then one day a guard passed along a Bible, one of a few books the flyers were allowed to share. DeShazer immersed himself in it. The words seemed to come alive. His rage and hatred for the Japanese began to fade as his heart melted. Obeying the Lord’s command to love his enemies, he forced himself to return kindness for their brutality. At one point, he felt a clear call to return to Japan to preach the gospel.

From the carrier Akagi, Mitsuo Fuchida led the attack on Darwin, Australia, but missed the Battle of Midway due to an appendicitis attack. During the battle, he felt the urge to go up on deck. When the carrier was sunk, he might have died but for that decision. Fuchida had many such miraculous escapes. He was in Hiroshima attending a conference the day before the city was destroyed by the Atomic Bomb, but was unexpectedly called back to Tokyo. Returning to help the next day, he remained well while others in his party sickened and died.

After the war, Fuchida lived a life of shame and discouragement, reduced to making his living on a small farm. Periodically, he was summoned to Tokyo by General MacArthur to testify at war crimes trials. At the train station one day, he was handed a tract entitled, “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.” It was Jacob DeShazer’s testimony, how he had been abused in prison and hated the Japanese, but had returned to preach the gospel in love. Fuchida sought out returning Japanese POWs, thinking that surely they would expose American atrocities he could use to defend his country at the trials. Instead, they told him of a young American woman who had ministered to them in prison. Asked the reason, she would reply that her parents had been executed by the Japanese, but she realized that they would have forgiven them. Fuchida later wrote, “I could not understand this enemy-forgiving love.”

He could recall other remarkable experiences. In 1929, lost in the fog over the South China Sea, he felt an inner voice telling him to climb to a higher altitude. When he ran out of gas, he was able to glide to safety. Again, crash-landing in the jungle, he wandered for days till he heard a voice say, “Come,” leading him in the direction of rescue.

One day, Fuchida read a newspaper column by famous Christian novelist Hakucho Masamune, urging Japanese to read at least 30 pages of the Bible. Though a Buddhist, he was prompted to buy one. He read in Luke 23:34 Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He wrote, “The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not understand the love which Christ wished to implant within every heart.” On April 14, 1950, “I became a new person. My complete view on life was changed by the intervention of the Christ I had always hated and ignored before.”

Jacob DeShazer had just completed 40 days of fasting and prayer when a man came to his door and introduced himself. It was Mitsuo Fuchida, now a Christian. DeShazar urged him to be baptized. Afterwards, Jacob DeShazer went on to plant dozens of churches in Japan. Mitsuo Fuchida became an evangelist, writing and telling his story in Japan and the United States, ministering with Rex Humbard and Billy Graham, until his death in 1974.

So now tell me: who was the real hero of Pearl Harbor?

Copyright 2001 Paul A. Hughes

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