Thursday, December 7, 2017

From Enemy to Evangelist: Mitsuo Fuchida, Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (PLUS a Giveaway!)

I’m sure anyone with an interest in twentieth-century history is aware that today marks the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—arguably the most pivotal event of the past century here.

But you might not know that the captain who directed the entire 350-plane aerial attack, who issued the famously triumphant “Tora-tora-tora” (“Tiger, tiger, tiger”) radio signal that announced that the Japanese had achieved complete surprise, would go on to provide a riveting testimony for Christ. 

Mitsuo Fuchida
Born in 1902 in a village in Nara Prefecture, Japan, Mitsuo Fuchida decided on a naval career early. In 1923, his second year at the naval academy, he took his first airplane flight and knew he’d found his calling. By 1939, Fuchida had risen to command the air group on the carrier Akagi

Leading the Pearl Harbor attack was “the culmination of my every waking thought,” Fuchida said, from the day in September 1941 when he was tapped for the honor. He personally masterminded methods that enabled the Japanese to use torpedoes despite the shallow waters. 

The “success” of that “day of infamy” made Fuchida a national hero, even garnering him a personal audience with Hirohito. But his nation’s resounding defeat left the proud navy captain to eke out a living as a subsistence-level farmer. 

“It was indeed a path of thorns to me.… It was a far cry from the regimentation and glamour of my military life. I was like a star that had fallen. At one moment I was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, and the next, I was nobody!... I must admit that I was bitter and disillusioned.” 

Farming gave Fuchida time to dwell on the existential questions. He became what we would call “a seeker.” 

“Why was I still alive, when men all around me had died like flies in the four years of conflict? Gradually, I came to believe that I had been supported by some great, unseen power. 


"As I labored… I thought of God, creation, the miracles of the seasons, the growing plants.... I was gradually led to think in terms of a Creator of all these things. With the increasing sense of the fact of a Creator-God, I came to feel ashamed of my former godless idea that man's own power and ability were his only trustworthy guides....


“The problem finally resolved around a person. Who, I asked myself, could accomplish the task of banishing suspicion and war? My mind turned toward God, the creator of all things.”

Fuchida met with a friend, a former navy lieutenant who’d just repatriated from a P.O.W. camp in the U.S. The man told Fuchida about Peggy Covell, a young woman fluent in Japanese who volunteered at one of the camps where he’d been confined. 

When asked why she was so kind to the prisoners, Peggy stunned the men. “Because my parents were killed by the Japanese Army.” 

Peggy's parents, Prof. James and Charma Covell, served for twenty years as Baptist missionaries in Japan. They were among the "Hopevale Martyrs" the Japanese Army executed in December 1943 in the Philippines as spies. (Look for that story in my next post.)

"Missionary Kid" Peggy Covell had a profound impact
on P.O.W.s she served--and ultimately, on
thousands more back in Japan. Look for my post on the
"Hopevale Martyrs" next month (1/28).

Her stance mystified Fuchida, who “could not understand such enemy-forgiving love. I had never heard of people returning good for evil. I desired all the more to discover the source of this power that could remove hatred from the hearts of people…” 

A few months later, Fuchida was called to Tokyo on an errand, where a missionary “happened” to hand him a tract authored by Doolittle Raider Jacob DeShazer. The tract recounted how, motivated by “bitter hatred” for the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, Jacob volunteered to serve as a bombardier on the daring vengeance raid--which Cindy K. Stewart has been highlighting in her posts. DeShazer was captured in China along with seven other Raiders. 

If you saw the movie or read the book Unbroken you'll have a picture of what these men endured. But where Louis Zamperini was a prisoner for a little more than two years, Doolittle’s “lost crews” remained in Japanese prison camps 

...for forty long months, 34 of them in solitary confinement. We were imprisoned and beaten, half-starved, terribly tortured, and denied by solitary confinement even the comfort of association with one another. Three of my buddies were executed by a firing squad about six months after our capture and 14 months later, another one of them died of slow starvation.... The bitterness of my heart against my captors seemed more than I could bear.

- Corporal Jacob DeShazer in his tract I Was a Prisoner of Japan

Tokyo, April 1942. Jacob DeShazer's crewmate and fellow
prisoner Lieutenant Robert Hite.

The four surviving prisoners eventually received the gift of a Bible. What DeShazer read during those miserable hours transformed him. Alone in his cell, he recognized his need for a Savior and accepted Jesus. 

The Lord revealed to Jake that He wanted to give the Japanese people an illustration of the meaning of forgiveness. Jake was to be that walking object lesson. In 1948, he returned to Japan as a Free Methodist missionary. 

This time I was not going as a bombardier, but I was going as a missionary. How much better it is to go out to conquer evil with the gospel of peace!

- Jacob DeShazer on his return to Japan

Reading DeShazer’s tract, Fuchida was confronted again with the transforming power of Jesus Christ. “I became more ashamed than ever of my own revengeful spirit.” 

He bought a Bible and read it. The final chapters of Luke’s gospel furnished the answers he’d been seeking. 

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

Fuchida knew he’d reached the end of a “long, long wandering…”

“Jesus prayed for the very soldiers who were about to thrust his side with the spear. I am not ashamed to say that my eyes filled with tears. I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.”

A few months later, the two were preaching to crowds together—Mitsuo Fuchida, the lead pilot at Pearl Harbor and Jacob DeShazer, the Doolittle Raid bombardier. They brought to thousands the message of God’s sacrificial love for all people and the power of Jesus Christ to bring forgiveness from sin. 


Would you like to read more of Mitsuo Fuchida's story in his own words? I'm giving away three copies of his book-length personal testimony, From Pearl Harbor to Calvary! (Kindle edition.) Register for the drawing here by Sunday December 10. You'll also receive updates on The Plum Blooms in Winter, my debut novel inspired by the story of Jake DeShazer and Doolittle's "lost crews." 
The Plum Blooms in Winter is an American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis winner. Inspired by a remarkable true story from World War II's pivotal Doolittle Raid, the novel follows a captured American pilot and a bereaved Japanese woman who targets him for ritual revenge. It launches next October from Mountain Brook Ink.

I live just outside Phoenix with my husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as my Chief Military Research Officer. We share our home with two all-grown-up kids and a small platoon of housecats.


  1. An amazing post. I feel relieved when I forgive a cruel word, a lie someone told. These people are forgiving much evil that had been done to them. More akin to the sacrifice of Christ, and fascinating to read. Thanks!

    1. I agree, Connie! The faith of people like the Covells or the DeShazers is both challenging and inspiring. Lord willing, I'll be as faithful in the event I'm ever called on for a big sacrifice...

  2. A truly wonderful history lesson in this post. Thank you for sharing. What a lovely testimony and reminder that we all should be forgiving toward others at all times. From Pearl Harbor to Calvary sounds like a book I'd enjoy.

    1. Praise God, Marilyn; I'm thankful it blessed you. :) Honestly, these stories still get me a bit teary every time I really stop to think about them--even though I've been writing about them for years!

  3. What a great post! Thank you for sharing!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thank you, Melanie! I really appreciate the encouragement! <3 God bless!

  4. These testimonies remind me that we serve a life changing God. How could we not love our Lord Jesus who suffered such reproach from ungodly men on our behalf. When we suffer in like manner, He can comfort us having suffered the same. As we see Him in this way, He transforms as. This is why we must take up His cross and follow Him.

    1. We certainly do, Kimberly, and thanks for putting such eloquent words to the reminder. God bless!

  5. Excellent article on the transforming power of Christ's love and the blessing of forgiving and being forgiven! Thank you for sharing Fuchida's story.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Cindy! I'm loving your series on the Doolittle Raid too. <3

  6. Thank you for this thought provoking post!

    1. My pleasure, Caryl, and thanks for stopping to leave a comment! It's very much appreciated. God bless!

  7. Thanks to all for your kind comments! I'll be forwarding From Pearl Harbor to Calvary by Mitsuo Fuchida to Marilyn, Betti and Joseph. :) Congratulations to the winners!