Minister's Corner: Japan's Pearl Harbor Hero

Pastor Elizabeth Affsprung --United Presbyterian Church, Shawnee
Pastor Elizabeth Affsprung, United Presbyterian Church, Shawnee

If you were hailed as a national hero, it could make it hard to change direction, if you felt you had lost your way. But it does happen. In the 1950s, the English-speaking world learned about such a hero: Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who planned and led the aerial surprise attack against Pearl Harbor. Fuchida wrote two memoirs, and books about Pearl Harbor, and the battle of MIdway.

Sunday, December 7, 1941 fell only a few days after Fuchida’s 39th birthday. Americans remember it as Pearl Harbor Day. Fuchida calls it one of the two most unforgettable days of his life. He enjoyed the glorious sunrise above the clouds at 3000 meters, and he enjoyed the hurricane of destruction, fire and fury that his planes unleashed.

“My heart was almost ablaze with joy,” he recalls, with the success of the attack and with deep love of country. Fuchida risked his life to stay near the target, making sure all American battleships were destroyed; his plane was riddled with flak when he returned to base. He was honored in a personal audience with Emperor Hirohito. Years later, he barely escaped the nuclear attack on Hiroshima; by chance he was called away to Tokyo.

Japan’s defeat and the war’s aftermath left Fuchida bitter and disillusioned,

in his words. But again by chance, he learned about 2 other individuals, both profoundly traumatized by the war, who had found a new way forward. Both were Christian.

Fuchido’s former flight engineer had been captured by the Americans, and Fuchido was stunned to learn that these POWs weren’t tortured or mistreated. His flight engineer described a young woman named Peggy Covell, whose missionary parents had been killed by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. She showed her forgiveness by tending the Japanese prisoners, with kindness and respect. To Fuchido this was inexplicable. In Japanese culture at that time, revenge against one’s enemies was a positive value, a responsibility and obligation.

A year and a half later, Jake DeShazer's pamphlet “I Was a Prisoner of Japan” came into Fuchida's hands. Solitary and starving in a Japanese POW camp, DeShazer read the Bible and welcomed its Lord. After the war, he came to Japan as a missionary. Again the mystery of forgiveness captivated Fuchida, and led him to read the New Testament.

In Fuchida's own words ...

In the ensuing weeks, I read [the Bible] eagerly. I came to the climactic drama -- the Crucifixion. I read in Luke 23:34 the prayer of Jesus Christ at His death: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." ...I was certainly one of those for whom He had prayed. The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not understand the love which Christ wishes to implant within every heart.

Right at that moment, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time. ….In prayer, I requested Him to forgive my sins and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot ….That date, April 14, 1950 became the 2nd "day to remember" of my life. On that day, 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.

Soon other friends beyond my close family learned of my decision to be a follower of Christ, and they could hardly understand it. Big headlines appeared in the papers: "Pearl Harbor Hero Converts to Christianity." Old war buddies came to visit me, trying to persuade me to discard "this crazy idea." Others accused me of being an opportunist, embracing Christianity only for how it might impress our American victors.

But time has proven them wrong.

As an evangelist, I have traveled across Japan and the Orient introducing others to the One who changed my life. I believe with all my heart that those who will direct Japan -- and all other nations -- in the decades to come must not ignore the message of Jesus Christ. [but] must realize that He is the only hope for this troubled world.

Though my country has the highest literacy rate in the world, education has not brought salvation. Peace and freedom -- both national and personal -- come only through an encounter with Jesus Christ. (end quote)

Violence and enmity only lead to more of the same. Love of country can lead to great creativity, courage, and self-sacrifice — or to inhuman cruelty, destruction and waste. If anyone ends this year in bitterness and disillusionment, I pray you will find a Christian friend or pastor, read the Gospels, and ask God for the transforming “love Christ wishes to implant within every heart.”