“I am Mitsuo Fuchida. As Chief Commander of the air squadron, I participated in the air raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (Japan time), which opened the Pacific war.
That morning, seating myself in the first plane, I led the whole squadron of 360 planes into Pearl Harbor, and having ascertained that the main force of the American Pacific fleet, comprised of eight warships, was at anchor in Pearl Harbor, I lifted the curtain of warfare by dispatching that cursed order number one, ‘Whole squadron, plunge into attack!'”
Those are the words we find from Captain Mitsuo Fuchida in “I Led the Air Raid on Pearl Harbor.”
December 7, 1941
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, stunned the entire nation and from that point forward dramatically changed the course of the history of the United States. The losses were unbelievable. (For the Fact Sheet on Pearl Harbor, click here.)
It was on that day that Mitsuo Fuchida became a household name in the United States. A formidable bomber pilot and Japanese captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, he led the first air wave attacks on that fateful day. Although subordinate to Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo, Fuchida coordinated the entire aerial attack.
Fuchida grew up with a hatred for the United States. He enlisted in Japan’s Naval Air Force and worked toward becoming Japan’s top ace. When the Japanese military leaders were looking for someone to lead the attack on Pearl Harbor, their natural choice was Fuchida.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Difficult, Painful History
Paul Newell writes in Pearl Harbor pilot became evangelist—He survived Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam and Hiroshima:
“Shortly after Mitsuo Fuchida led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he discovered just how fortunate he was to be living.
Along with the 21 holes that visibly pocked the 39-year-old’s aircraft, a mechanic on the aircraft carrier Akagi found a frayed elevator cable that dangled from Fuchida’s reconnaissance bomber by a single thread. If it had been severed, the inevitable crash could have killed the flight commander—whose radio message “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was the final go-ahead for the attack that drew the United States into World War II.
To Fuchida, who did not consider himself a spiritual man at the time, dodging the flak over Pearl Harbor was a lucky break. But as the war wore on, escaping death became a rite of passage for the man, leading him 30 years later to tell now-retired Stars and Stripes reporter Hal Drake that ‘someone had his hand on my head.'”
Fuchida would go on to cheat death several more times during the war. Set to lead the charge on Midway Atoll, he came down with appendicitis and had to watch the American aircraft hit and sink his fellow Japanese carriers. His carrier Akagi too came under fire and Fuchida was dragged from the burning carrier, both ankles broken. His life was spared yet again.
Probably the most significant event of his life being saved by some unseen grace was during the bombing of Hiroshima. On August 5, 1945, Fuchida, instead of commanding aerial defense in Hiroshima, found himself unexpectedly called to a meeting five hundred miles away. On August 6, the atomic bomb flattened the city.
Following this, all his officers died from radiation poisoning. Fuchida was left alone wondering why he had escaped death yet again.
When the United States military began their war trials, Fuchida was called to testify in Tokyo. In the midst of searching for information to help him testify to the equally inhumane treatment on both sides, Fuchida determined to interview the 150 returning Japanese released prisoners of war.
While he watched the men getting off the boat, he recognized a sailor friend, Kazuo Kanegasaki. Fuchida immediately wanted to know how the Americans had treated him.
A Life Changed, Forever
What he learned changed his life forever!
Kanegasaki spoke of a young Christian girl named Peggy Covell. Her missionary parents had been killed by Japanese soldiers—after their request to pray for half an hour had been granted. Since her parents were dead, Fuchida couldn’t figure out what was so great about the Christian God who couldn’t even save them. Not believing the story, Fuchida decided to investigate it for himself.
It was true. The parents prayed for thirty minutes before being beheaded by Japanese swords.
Who would do that? Fuchida, now curious, wanted to find out about this Christian God.
And God would not let him go. Elesha Coffman in “Beyond Pearl Harbor—How God Caught Up With the Man Who Led Japan’s Surprise Attack” says:
“On the same day, an American P.O.W. named Jacob DeShazer felt moved by the Holy Spirit to pray for peace. DeShazer had been in captivity since 1942, when, as a member of Doolittle’s Raiders, he dropped bombs near Tokyo and then was forced to parachute into China. While imprisoned, first in Nanjing and later in Beijing, DeShazer had become a Christian. He found his heart softened toward his Japanese captors. After being liberated, DeShazer wrote a widely distributed essay, ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese,’ detailing his experiences of capture, conversion, and forgiveness.”
DeShazer was repeatedly tortured in the Japanese prison camps and watched the painful deaths of his crew members. Like Fuchida, DeShazer couldn’t figure out why God would spare his life. In the midst of all this torture and pain, DeShazer requested a Bible. This was a turning point for him. He was deeply affected by Christ’s asking for forgiveness of those who crucified him. The effect of this was so profound on DeShazer that he vowed to return to Japan as a missionary.
In 1948, while Fuchida was getting off the train at Shibuya Station, someone placed “I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese” into his hands. Fuchida quickly read the story and was struck by a Christian’s forgiveness towards his enemies.
Paul Newell further writes:
“For a second time, a story of the human ability to forgive one’s enemies rocked Fuchida. This time it stuck. ‘That’s when I met Jesus,’ Fuchida told Drake. ‘Looking back, I can see now that the Lord had laid his hand upon me so that I might serve him.'”
Joyfully, in 1950, Fuchida and DeShazer got a chance to meet with each other. DeShazer served as a missionary to Japan planting churches all over the country, and Fuchida became an evangelist sharing the message of peace and forgiveness wherever in the world he could.
Fuchida died on May 30, 1976. We remember him by his words, “…After buying and reading the Bible, my mind was strongly impressed and captivated. I think I can say today without hesitation that God’s grace has been set upon me.”
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” – John 1:16
Updated December 7, 2016
Photo via Vintage Everyday