This is a true story of the lives of three people, and how they were forever changed.
On December 7, 1941, a Japanese force of six carriers and 423 aircraft attacked the United States base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Commander Fuchida was chosen to help plan and lead the air assault, flying along the southern coast past Honolulu.
As the first wave of Japanese returned to their carriers, Fuchida remained until the second wave of attack, to observe the extent of the damage in Pearl Harbor. His craft was hit 21 times, yet he was able to make it back to his carrier once the mission was complete, and with great pride announced to his people that the U.S. battleship fleet had been destroyed. The successful attack made Fuchida a national hero, and he was granted a personal audience with Emperor Hirohito.
His military career continued, leading the first of two waves on an air raid on Darwin, Australia, and led another series of air attacks against Royal Navy bases in Ceylon. On June 4, 1942, Fuchida was wounded at the Battle of Midway. Unable to fly while recovering from an emergency shipboard appendectomy a few days before the battle, he was on the ship’s bridge during the morning attacks by U.S. aircraft. The ship was hit, and the burning fuel and live bombs on board began blowing up. The officers evacuated down a rope, and as Fuchida slid down, an explosion threw him to the deck and broke both his ankles. It was a miracle that he survived and was no worse injured.
After spending several months recuperating, Fuchida spent the rest of the war in Japan as a staff officer, and in October 1944 was promoted to captain. The day before the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, he was in that city to attend a military conference. But Fuchida received a call from Navy Headquarters asking him to return to Tokyo, and so he left before the bomb hit. The day after the bombing, he was shocked and returned to Hiroshima with a group to assess the damage. All members of Fuchida’s party later died from exposure to the radiation poisoning, but Fuchida though he was there exhibited no symptoms. Time after time, he had narrowly escaped death, though he thought it mere coincidence or luck.
After the war, Fuchida was called on to testify at the trials of Japanese military for war crimes. He was furious with the war trials, because he believed that war was war and cruel acts always happened on both sides. So why have a trial over it? He was convinced the Americans had treated the Japanese in the same cruel manner as they’d treated American prisoners, and so he was determined to bring evidence to the next trial to prove it. He went to Uraga Harbor to meet a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war to gather that evidence, and was surprised to see his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, whom he thought had died in the war. He questioned his friend, and Kanegasaki told Fuchida that they had not been tortured or abused by the Americans, but were treated well. He then went on to tell him of a young lady, Peggy Covell, who had cared for them and shown them the deepest love and respect while they were prisoners…
Peggy Covell was the daughter of Christian missionary parents, who were teachers in Japan until 1939 when they departed for their safety to the Philippines. They sent their children on to the United States but stayed behind themselves to continue serving. Eventually, her parents were captured by the Japanese. Before the soldiers beheaded them that Sunday morning, her parents asked for 30 minutes to pray for their executioners. They prayed, and after were beheaded, and so Peggy became an orphan.
Hearing this story, Fuchida could not understand why these parents would pray to a god who could not save them from the sword, nor why they would pray for their enemies before being executed. Why would Peggy later return to Japan to assist with the Japanese POWs? None of this made sense to him, and Kanegasaki could not provide an answer for Fuchida. In Fuchida’s moral framework of the Bushido code, it was your duty to take revenge on your enemy and prove loyalty to your loved ones whose honor had been disgraced. Revenge restores honor. So in Peggy’s case, Fuchida saw no rationale for her forgiveness and love toward the Japanese who had murdered her parents. They should instead be her sworn enemies.
During autumn another war story found its way to Fuchida: As he was passing through the Shibuya Station, he was handed a pamphlet about the life of Jacob DeShazer, a member of the Doolittle Raid who was captured by the Japanese after his B-25 bomber ran out of fuel over occupied China…
On December 7, 1941, while peeling potatoes, DeShazer heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor over the radio. Enraged, it wasn’t long after that that he, along with other members of the 17th Bomb Group, volunteered to join a special unit that had formed to attack Japan.
Their mission would be to fly modified B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier to attack enemy Japan. This unit soon to carry out the raid acquired the name “Doolittle’s Raiders” after their famous commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.
The raid was a success despite being sighted and forced to launch their bombers earlier than planned. After bombing Nagoya, Japan, they attempted to reach the safe haven in China to be refueled. But DeShazer and the rest of the crew were forced to parachute into enemy territory over Ningpo as their B-25 ran out of fuel too soon.
He was injured in his fall, along with the rest of his crew, and was captured the very next day by the Japanese. DeShazer was sentenced to life imprisonment by Emperor Hirohito. During his captivity, he was sent to Tokyo with the survivors of another Doolittle crew, and was held in a series of P.O.W. camps for 40 months. He was severely beaten and malnourished. Three of the crew were executed by a firing squad, and another died of slow starvation. His hatred of the Japanese consumed him.
One day, DeShazer persuaded one of his guards to loan him a book for something to read, which happened to be a copy of the Bible. Although he only had possession of the Bible for three weeks, he saw its message of salvation, and knew it was the reason for his survival. He resolved then and there to accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation, and he felt a change in his heart from that moment on. The hatred he held wasn’t the same anymore, it began melting away. He no longer hated the Japanese, and instead began learning words in their language, and treated his captors with respect. Surprised, the guards likewise treated him more kindly, though they could not understand where this change in behavior was coming from.
As the war came to an end, on August 20, 1945, DeShazer and the others in the camp at Beijing, China were finally released when American soldiers parachuted into the camp. On his return to the United States, DeShazer was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his part in the Doolittle Raid. He soon entered a Christian college and began studying to be a missionary, with the goal of returning to Japan with his wife to spread the gospel to the Japanese and his captors.
On April 15, 2008, the Oregon War Veterans Association nominated DeShazer for the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal noting his extraordinary impact on America as a war hero and for his heroic service to the people of Japan, where he is well known as a hero of peace and reconciliation.
Reading this pamphlet of DeShazer’s story increased Fuchida’s curiosity in the Christian faith. The examples of Peggy Covell and Jacob DeShazer created a desire in Fuchida to know more about the Christian god who changed lives. He purchased a Bible near the same Shibuya Station; as he read through the gospels, he slowly came to understand the reason for the forgiveness that motivated Peggy and Jake. Finally, it was the crucifixion of Jesus and His words in the gospel of Luke that moved him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus had said as He was bloodied and nails driven through his hands and feet, hung on a cross to die, forgiving His enemies. Fuchida was overcome by this. On April 14, he accepted Christ as his Savior, and knew that he had been kept alive through the war by God for this very reason, that he might come to know Him.
In May, Fuchida traveled to where DeShazer lived in order to meet him. DeShazer answered the door, and Fuchida said, “I have desired to meet you, Mr. DeShazer. My name is Mitsuo Fuchida.” After a moment, DeShazer recognized the name and said, “Come in, come in.” The former enemies embraced as brothers in Christ. DeShazer the Doolittle Raider who bombed Nagoya befriended Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, becoming close friends and working together thereafter.
Fuchida spent the rest of his life as an evangelist and missionary in Asia and the United States. His booklet, From Pearl Harbor to Calvary, recounts his journey to faith. He created the Captain Fuchida Evangelistical Association based in Seattle, Washington and spoke full-time of his conversion to the Christian faith in presentations. On occasion, DeShazer and Fuchida preached together as Christian missionaries in Japan. And in 1959, DeShazer moved to Nagoya to establish a Christian church in the very city he had once bombed.
These three lives once filled with hatred and pain were transformed by Christ and used to do good, spreading the message of hope. Bible verse Matthew 5:44 says it best: “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.”
May this Christmas remind us of Christ’s love and forgiveness and the power to change lives.
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