Adrenaline rushed through him as Commander Mitsuo Fuchida slid back the canopy of his torpedo bomber. He fired a dark blue flare to signal the 182 planes behind him and ordered his radio man to send the code words Tora! Tora! Tora! back to his carrier Akagi. Surprise at Pearl Harbor had been achieved.
Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive bombers and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury. As smoke began to billow and the proud battleships, one by one, started tilting, my heart was almost ablaze with joy.
Upon returning to the Akagi, Fuchida inspected his plane and counted 21 flak holes. One of his mechanics later found a frayed elevator cable, held together by a single thread. Had it snapped his plane would have gone down. I was lucky.
In June 1942, he was slated to lead the attack on Midway Island. But six days before the battle he underwent an appendectomy, restricting him to bridge duties. During the battle, U.S. Dauntless dive bombers hit the plane filled decks of Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu with 500-pound bombs. Secondary explosions from fuel and ordinance doomed all three. As Fuchida descended by rope from the bridge of Akagi, another explosion threw him to the deck, breaking both ankles. He was dragged aboard a destroyer. Nearly every pilot on the decks of the three carriers was killed. Other pilots returning from an attack on Midway Island, with no place to land, fell into the sea after running out of fuel. I know I would have died.
His injuries ended his flight career. He became a staff officer under Vice Admiral Kakuji Kakuta on the island of Tinian in the Marianas. Two weeks before the American invasion of Tinian, he was ordered to Tokyo. When American victory at Tinian was certain, Admiral Kakuta and his entire staff committed suicide. Again, the sword of death had missed me only by inches. What does it mean?
In July 1945, Fuchida was sent to Hiroshima to organize its air defenses. But on Aug. 5 he was abruptly ordered to attend a briefing 500 miles away. During breakfast the next morning, he learned that everyone he’d been working with in Hiroshima was dead, along with thousands of others, victims of an atomic bomb. He and twelve others were ordered to Hiroshima to assess the damage.
Those who accompanied him soon became sick. Twenty days later the first member of his team died of radiation poisoning. Like drowning men letting go of a lifeline, one by one, members of my team perished. Fuchida never displayed any symptoms and was the only member of his party to survive.
After the war Fuchida returned to his hometown of Kashihara to help his wife raise their two children and to engage in chicken farming. Life had no taste or meaning….I had missed death so many times and for what?
When he was summoned to Tokyo in 1947 to testify at Japanese war crimes trials, he first went to Uraga Harbor to meet a group of 150 returning Japanese POWs, certain they would testify that the Americans had been just as cruel to them as had his countrymen to the Americans. Among them was Kazuo Kanegasaki, his former flight engineer, whom he thought had died at Midway. Kanegasaki informed Fuchida that the Americans had not tortured them and that a young lady named Peggy Covell had served them at their camp in Colorado, despite her missionary parents being killed by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. When they asked why she did that, she replied in Japanese. “The Japanese army killed my parents, but the Holy Spirit has washed away my hatred and has replaced it with love.”
Peggy Covell grew up in Japan, where her parents served as missionary teachers in a middle school. In 1939 they relocated to Manila in the Philippines. There she finished high school before returning to America for college in 1940.
When Manila was captured by the Japanese in early 1942, her parents, Jim and Charma, fled with fellow missionaries to a remote mountain hideout they named “Hopevale.” On Dec. 19, 1943, Japanese soldiers captured Hopevale. Everyone, including the children, was condemned to death. As they read their Bibles and prayed together, one by one they were taken out and beheaded.
But what good is it to pray to a God who could not even save her parents? Fuchida pondered. To forgive one’s enemies was also inexplicable. The Bushido code he lived by required revenge to restore honor.
In 1948 he was compelled to testify at further Japanese war crimes trials. While exiting his train at Shibuya Station, an American named Jacob DeShazer handed him a pamphlet. I was a Prisoner in Japan. DeShazer had been one of the Doolittle Raiders, whose B-25s bombed Japan in 1942. When his plane ran out of fuel and crash-landed in China, Japanese soldiers captured the crew. Three of his crewmates were executed. The other, Lieutenant Bob Meder starved to death. But before he died, Meder spoke to Sergeant DeShazer. “Jake, Jesus Christ is the key to all of this.”
DeShazer then begged his captors for a Bible. Finally, in May, 1944 a guard brought him one, which he began to devour. On June 8, 1944, the words of Romans 10:9 hit him. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. At that moment he confessed his sins to God and believed in His Son. He rejoiced in newness of life even though he suffered from beatings and malnourishment. His hatred for the guards became pity. He began to learn Japanese and resolved to someday return to Japan with the message of salvation if he survived his captivity. In August 1945 he was liberated. After attending Seattle Pacific College, he returned to Japan and established a church in Nagoya, the same city he had bombed in 1942.
The examples of Peggy Covell and Jacob DeShazer prodded Fuchida to purchase a Bible. While reading the gospels, he was struck by Luke 23:34, during Jesus’ crucifixion. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. On April 14, 1950, Fuchida came to know Christ and finally knew why he had survived the war.
The next month he went to Jacob DeShazer’s home in Nagoya and knocked on the door.
“I have desired to meet you, Mr. DeShazer. My name is Mitsuo Fuchida.”
The former enemies embraced as brothers in Christ. For many years they evangelized together, telling all the saving message of Jesus Christ. Fuchida lived in America for most of the remainder of his life, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1966. He died May 30, 1976 from diabetic complications.
Robert Alan Ward is a veteran and holds a B.S. in Christian Education from San Diego Christian College. He is retired and lives in Show Low with his wife, Gisela. You can read more of his work at www.absorbingtales4u.com