Topic: The Japanese and American airmen who chose to forgive after WWII - Two opposing warriors transformed
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Posted: 01/11/2017 at 8:43am
The Japanese and American airmen who chose to forgive after WWII
Two opposing warriors transformed: Mitsuo Fuchida and Jake DeShazer
By Jack Voelkel
Mitsuo Fuchida and Jacob DeShazer
On December 7, 1941, 360 Japanese
planes were launched from aircraft carriers in range of the Hawaiian
Islands. Ace airman, Mitsuo Fuchida, gave the famous attack signal,
Tora! Tora! Tora (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!). They wreaked havoc on the
unsuspecting U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored in exquisite Pearl Harbor. By
the end of the attack, 8 battleships, 3 destroyers, and 3 cruisers had
been sunk or severely damaged; 188 aircraft were destroyed;
2,403 people had been killed; and 1,178 were wounded (Benge, p. 26). As Fuchida
guided the planes back to their carriers, he was filled with pride for
his men and for himself. The surprise attack had succeeded beyond all
expectations. His Admiral congratulated him, and later he had the
extraordinary honor of personally giving his report to Emperor Hirohito.
But Fuchida left behind more than smashed ships and aircraft and dead
and wounded men. His raid left behind a nation “welded together by the
fires he and his men had set – a United States that would not rest until
the Japanese had paid in full for their morning’s work” (Prange, p.
The Doolittle Raid
As a result of the raid on Pearl Harbor, the next day the United
States and Britain declared war on Japan. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt mandated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to bomb Japan as soon as
possible, to boost public morale. Lt.Col. James Doolittle, the daring
and much decorated flyer ordered to plan and lead the mission, noted in
his autobiography, “The Japanese had been told they were invulnerable.
An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of
the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their
leaders” (Doolittle, pp 1,2).
Sixteen B-25 “Mitchell” bombers were carefully prepared to enable
them to take off from an aircraft carrier. The 80 crewmen were
volunteers, invited to participate in a dangerous mission the details of
which they knew nothing until they were at sea heading for Japan. One
of them was Corporal Jacob (Jake) DeShazer, a bombardier. His fear
mingled with a sense of honor and privilege to participate in
retaliation for the carnage of Pearl Harbor. His anger toward Japanese
born on Pearl Harbor Day had grown into a deep hatred and obsession for
On April 18, 1942 the bombers began their flight. Fourteen hours
later, Jake’s plane dropped its bombs on their target, and headed for
free China. They never made it. He and his fellow crew members bailed
out in the dark and landed in territory occupied by the Japanese army.
Several airmen were executed; he and four other survivors were given
A Prisoner of War
For 40 months, Jake and his companions were prisoners of war, often
brutally beaten, tortured, poorly fed, and for most of the time kept in
solitary confinement, their only companions lice, fleas, and rats.
Sometimes they had to sit on tiny stools facing a wall for 16 hours a
day. The only source of strength
Jake had to draw upon was his bitter hatred for the enemy. During the
lonely hours Jake reviewed his life. His father had been a Church of God
lay preacher. When he was a child his family had easily prayed and
talked about spiritual things. But when Jake had left home, he had put
all this behind him. He felt that now under these horrible conditions,
since he had forsaken God, it would be dishonest to pray.
Two prisoners at Changi POW camp
On one occasion when he and Bob, one of his fellow prisoners, were
allowed to weed the courtyard, his companion said to Jake, “I do believe
that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Coming King, and that He is God’s
Son….The war is not going to stop until Jesus Christ causes it to stop”
(Benge, p. 124). Bob later died, and Jake’s only thought was how anyone,
even Jesus, could dare to suggest that a person love his enemies when
they were mistreating and starving good men to death (p. 125). Uplift
came when without fanfare the guards distributed several English
language books among the prisoners. The prize volume was a Bible, but
Jake had to wait 9 weeks for his turn to read it and he would only have
it for 21 days.
“From the moment the Bible was brought to his cell, Jake barely slept
or put the book down. Despite the fact that the light in his cell was
dingy and the Bible text small, the words seemed to leap off the page at
him” (Benge, p. 126). He read straight through, beginning with the Old
Testament and continuing on with the New. As he read he became conscious
of a Presence in the cell with him, “God right there beside him,
reaching out to someone who was lost, alone, and abandoned” (p. 127).
One day, as the Gospel truth come through the verses he was studying, he
prayed “Lord, though I am far from home and though I am in prison, I
ask for your forgiveness” (p. 127). His heart filled with joy. He knew
he was a new man.
As he continued to read and study the Bible, the Lord spoke to him
about forgiving others. One day a guard intentionally kicked his bare
foot with his hobnailed boot several times, causing him intense pain.
His first reaction was a desire for revenge. But pondering the verses he
had memorized, including Jesus’ admonition for Christians to love and
forgive their enemies, Jake recognized that Jesus was asking him to
forgive his tormentor and to reach out to him with love.
As his attitude toward the guard changed, illustrated by forgiveness
and grace, the man responded in kind, and Jake began to receive better
treatment. Although he suffered repeatedly from dysentery and with boils
all over his body, Jake became more and more conscious that God was
with him. His desire to pray grew and he began to cry out to God to put
it in the hearts of the Japanese leaders to sue for peace. Then one day
he sensed the Lord say, “You can stop now. You don’t need to pray
anymore. The victory is won” (Benge, p. 140).
“The victory is won!” A wonderful promise, but what he would do when
the war was over? What would happen when the Emperor surrendered,
leaving the Japanese without the assurance that they were invincible?
Then, a startling thing happened. The room seemed electrified. Without
warning he heard an audible voice speaking to him: “You are called to go
and teach the Japanese people and go wherever I send you” (142).
Within days, God’s promised victory was corroborated. The guards
brought him his own uniform and said, “The war is over now. You can go
home.” The next weeks were a blur: he was flown back to the U.S., had a
medical review, and returned home on a 9 week vacation. His family had
heard that all the Doolittle Raiders had been killed, so the reunion was
a very emotional one. Jake was a celebrity, constantly invited to speak
and share his experiences. But deep within his heart burned the
conviction that God had called him to return to Japan as a missionary.
Back To Japan
Jake resigned from the Air Force, studied for a degree in missions in
a Bible College, and met Florence, a young woman who also had a call to
missions. Their friendship ripened into love, they got married, and
Jake was ordained by the Free Methodist Church and commissioned for
missionary service in Japan.
At that time Jake wrote a short description of his experiences during
the war entitled, “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.” The editors had it
translated into Japanese and over 1 million copies were distributed in
As their steamer passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, Jake couldn’t
help but remember six and a half years before when on the deck of the
USS Hornet he had been one of the Doolittle Raiders. Then he was an
angry young bombardier off on a daring mission to make Japan pay for its
raid on Pearl Harbor; and now? Jake made his way to their cabin and
wrote: “This time I am not going as a bombardier, but I am going as a
missionary. Now I have love and good intentions toward Japan. How much
better it is to go out to conquer evil with the gospel of peace!” (Benge
DeShazer meets former prison guard
Before Jake and Florence could even leave the ship in Tokyo Bay, they
were besieged by reporters who wanted to interview him. Because of the
article he had written, he was famous and invited to speak in many
places. Dr. Kaneo Oda, the superintendent of the Free Methodist Church
in Japan, realized that Jake had a great opportunity to witness, and
offered to be his interpreter. God began to use these meetings as
hundreds gathered to hear his testimony. He preached four or five times a
day for the next six years, and thousands of Japanese became
Christians, including two of his former prison guards (Kelly p. 12).
Meanwhile, Florence began Bible studies in their home.
Two Warriors Meet
A year and a half after arriving in Japan, Jake’s growing burden for
the evangelization of the country led him to plan a 40 day fast,
drinking only water. He poured out his heart in prayer for the country.
One day at the end of the fast, a stranger came to visit him, none other
than Mitsuo Fuchida, the airman who had led the raid on Pearl Harbor.
Fuchida shared his story. During the war, his life had been
miraculously spared time after time, and once it was over, he hungered
to find the source of true peace. Participating as a witness in war
crimes trials, he decided to investigate how Japanese prisoners had
suffered at the hands of their American captors. He was amazed to hear
of Peggy Covell, an 18 year old volunteer, who had showed great love and
service to the Japanese. When asked why she did this, she replied,
“Because the Japanese killed my parents in the Philippines. They would
have forgiven the soldiers, I know, and so I will do the same.” Fuchida
was confronted with an illustration of God’s love.
Then one day he read Jake’s account of being a prisoner of war. The American’s decision to forgive the
Fuchida with Billy Graham
Japanese who mistreated him and give his life to serve them, deeply
impacted him. As a result of these two experiences he purchased a New
Testament and studied it thoroughly. Little by little the truth of the
Gospel penetrated his life. “I seemed to meet Jesus…I requested Him to
forgive my sins and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into
a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living” (Fuchida, p. 3).
Since then he had been speaking in public meetings calling on his
countrymen to believe in Jesus.
It was natural for the two warriors – one who led the attack on Pearl
Harbor and the other who participated in the first bombing raid on
Japan – to kneel side by side and give thanks to the Lord for finding
them, saving them, and giving them a call to share the Gospel. They
began sharing the same platform and whenever possible held meetings all
over Japan giving their testimonies of God’s grace.
Jake and Florence invested 29 years in Japan. During this time the
DeShazers helped plant 23 congregations as well as participating in
hundreds of meetings throughout the country. As the years passed, time
and economic prosperity seemed to dull the Japanese interest in
spiritual things. Jake’s popularity as one of the Doolittle Raiders
waned. In later years, they encountered a growing antagonism to
Americans. Nevertheless, Jake and Fuchida continued to preach with
fervor and conviction.
As I review the story of these two old warriors, now soldiers of the
same King, I am impressed at God’s parallel work in two lives:
Each deeply suffered, both physically and psychologically, and were
confronted with the need to forgive their enemies.
- Each came to saving faith during a time of emotional turmoil,
both by the testimony of others but more specifically through meditating
- Each was led almost immediately to declare and share their
conversion with others, and were then called to engage in public
ministry. For Fuchida, this was especially difficult as he was looked
upon by the Japanese as a traitor to his culture and his religion.
However, he believed that Jesus Christ was the only source of truth and
must not be compromised (Prange, p. 261).
Even so, God uses our own testimonies, calling us to love others and
demonstrate forgiveness and reconciliation. May the lives of these two
men changed by Christ continue to encourage and challenge us and invite
others to explore the Scriptures with us.
Benge, Janet & Geoff. Jacob DeShazer. Forgive your Enemies. Seattle: YWAM, 2009.
Doolittle, James H. and Carroll V. Glines. I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography. New York:
Bantam Books, 1991.
Fuchida, Mitsuo. From Pearl Harbor to Calvary. http://www.biblebelievers.com/fuchida1.html.
Kelly, Clint. Flight into Eternity. World War II POW Jake DeShazer
Chose a Life of Love not Hate. Response. Seattle Pacific University,
Prange, Gordon W. With Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon.
God’s Samurai. Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor. Washington, DC: Brassey’s,
This article was originally published on the website of urbana.org, a department of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Used by permission of the author.
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