Pearl Harbor Hero Converts to Christianity

By Jeff Searles

“Lost people must mater to God, and so they must matter to us.”

Keith Wright

December 7, 2016 marked the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surprise air attack against the U.S. Navy Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida was in command of all attacking aircraft over Pearl Harbor which included 183 fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes in the first wave.   

Approaching the harbor at 7:40 a.m., Fuchida looked anxiously through cloud breaks for the fleet. Finally, he saw massive ships peacefully moored at anchor in the harbor.  The Americans were totally unresponsive to the attack.  Fuchida radioed his Fleet Admiral Nagumo on the carrier Akagi 230 miles away that surprise was complete.   The code word Fuchida used and repeated three times was “Tora!” (Tiger).  Born in the year of the Tiger, Fuchida felt he held to his destiny by pouncing like a cat on the unsuspecting Americans.

  U.S. veterans and citizens across America remember Pearl Harbor Day as one of the worst defeats in U.S. military history.  2,402 members of the U.S. armed forces were killed.  An additional 1,282 were wounded.  The heart of the Pacific Fleet was wiped out as all eight U.S. battleships and a dozen other ships sank or were heavily damaged.  President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to both houses of congress the next day to declare war against Japan.  He captured the heartbreak of the December 7 disaster as “a date which will live in infamy.”  

Fuchida survived World War II.  He was too sick recovering from an emergency appendectomy to join in the Battle of Midway.  But he was wounded anyway during the fight, breaking both ankles when his ship, the carrier Akagi, was hit. 

He was in Hiroshima for a conference the day before the city was hit with the atom bomb.  But he was ordered back to navy headquarters in Tokyo the day before.  The day after the bombing, he returned to Hiroshima with a party sent to assess the damage. All members of Fuchida’s party later died of radiation poisoning, but Fuchida exhibited no symptoms. 

When the war ended, Fuchida’s military career was over.  He returned to his home village near Osaka and began farming.  But it was a discouraging life.  When the war crime trials opened in Tokyo, General Douglas MacArthur summoned Fuchida to testify on several occasions.  That’s when his life took a dramatic turn.  Fuchida’s following story is in his own words:

“I got off the train one day in Tokyo’s Shibuya Station.  I saw an American distributing literature.  As I passed him, he handed me a pamphlet entitled “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.” Since I was preoccupied with the trials on atrocities committed against war prisoners, I took it.  What I read was the fascinating episode which eventually changed my life.” 

“The American I met at the train station was a former American soldier named Jake DeShazer.  He had been on “K.P.” duty in the U.S. Army at Camp Pendleton, California. When radio broadcasts told of the sneak attack demolishing of Pearl Harbor, Jake became infuriated.   He hurled a potato at a wall and shouted, ‘Jap, just wait and see what we’ll do to you!’”                  

“One month later he volunteered for a secret mission with the Jimmy Doolittle Squadron — a surprise raid on Tokyo from the U.S. carrier Hornet. On April 18,1942, DeShazer was assigned bombardier.  He was filled with elation at getting his revenge. 

 After the Tokyo raid, the planes flew on towards China. DeShazer’s plane ran out of fuel.  Parachuting into Japanese-held territory, DeShazer was taken prisoner by the next morning. 

For forty months Jake was treated cruelly.  His violent hatred for the maltreating Japanese guards almost drove him insane at one point. 

 Then, the U.S. prisoners were given a Bible to read.  He read, and re-read the Bible. He eventually came to understand that the book was more than an historical classic. Its message became relevant to him right there in his cell.  

The dynamic power of Christ which Jake DeShazer accepted into his life changed his entire attitude toward his captors. His hatred turned to love and concern.  He resolved that should America win the war, he would someday return to Japan to introduce others to this life-changing book.

When the war ended, DeShazer did just that.  In 1948, he returned to Japan as a missionary to the nation that held him captive. And that was when I met him at the train station and received his pamphlet.  

His story was something I could not explain.  Neither could I forget it. The peaceful motivation I had read about was exactly what I was seeking. Since the American had found it in the Bible, I decided to purchase one for myself, despite my traditionally Buddhist heritage.

In the ensuing weeks, I read this book 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 impressed that 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. I understood the meaning of His death as a substitute for my wickedness.   So in prayer, 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.

  That date, April 14, 1950 — became the second “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.  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.  

I would give anything to retract my actions at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ.

He is the only One who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire me with His thoughts. He was the only answer to Jake DeShazer’s tormented life. He is the only answer for young people today.

In the end, Mitsuo Fuchida faithfully served Jesus Christ as an evangelist for 25 years until his death in 1976. “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary” is Fuchida’s testimony of salvation.