Guest blog by Linda Thompson, author of A Plum Blooms in Winter
From Infamy to Forgiveness: A Pearl Harbor Story
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 may 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. And you probably don’t know how that came to pass.
I’ll give you the story in a nutshell—I know it well, since it’s the story that inspired my newly-released debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter.
In the wake of Pearl Harbor’s deadly destruction, we as a nation felt whipped. And angry. An order came down from the highest level—President Roosevelt himself: find a way to bomb Tokyo, no matter the cost.
The Doolittle Raid
Our best military minds put their heads together and came up with a wildly “out-of-the-box” plan. It came to fruition just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when eighty volunteers took flight on a bold and unprecedented mission that came to be known as the Doolittle Raid. Sixteen medium-weight B-25 bombers left the deck of the carrier U.S.S. Hornet. They deployed their payloads on Tokyo and other key targets on the Japanese main island on April 18, 1942.
The planes were too big to land on the carrier, so the plan called for them to fly on to China. But while the military objective was achieved, due to unforeseen circumstances the sortie left most of the airmen stranded in enemy-occupied China. Eight men—the crew of Plane #16, the Bat Out of Hell, and the three survivors of Plane #6, the Green Hornet—were captured by the Japanese.
Anyone who saw the movie or read the book Unbroken will have a general 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 fourteen 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
Caption: This wartime poster features a photo of Lieutenant Robert Hite, one of eight captured Doolittle Raiders. Tokyo, April 1942.
Of the eight Raiders captured, only four survived that ordeal. George Barr, Jacob DeShazer, Robert Hite and Chase Nielson returned to the U.S. different men. Here’s how they expressed it in a joint statement:
“We were not what you would call religious men before we were captured. We went to Sunday school and church when we were kids… We memorized Bible verses and listened to sermons and said grace at meals…. But we never really understood the meaning behind those words and the source of strength they represented in our lives.…
We were given the Bible to read. We found in its ripped and faded pages a source of courage and faith we never realized existed. The verses we memorized as children suddenly came alive and became as vital to us as food.
We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.”
—Four Came Home (Carroll V. Glines, 1995)
From Hatred to Love
Corporal DeShazer, the former bombardier of the Bat Out of Hell, was transformed by what he read in the Bible. The Lord revealed to him during those miserable hours alone in his cell that He wanted to give the Japanese people an illustration of the meaning of forgiveness. Jake was to become that walking object lesson.
Upon his release, Jake rushed home to earn a Bible degree from Seattle Pacific College. In 1948, he returned to Japan with his new bride, Florence, 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
Japanese people flocked to hear him and peppered him with questions. The idea that one could hold anything other than implacable hatred for one’s enemies was foreign to the Confucianist ideas that drove their culture at that time.
From Enemies to Co-Evangelists
There are a number of remarkable stories from Jake and Florence’s sojourn in Japan. My favorite, of course, is the one that inspired my novel. Convinced that DeShazer dropped the bomb that stole the life of a man she loved, a young woman showed up at one of his meetings. She carried a knife in her purse, determined to exact her revenge, even if it cost her everything.
Caption: The intended target. Corporal Jacob DeShazer after the war.
That anecdote haunted me. I confess I had a stereotype of traditional Japanese women. Weren’t they gentle? Compliant? You know, haiku and flower-arranging?
The rest of her story is lost. Which was a gift, in a way. I was left to research the time period—fascinating and harrowing—and create the fictional tale of a deeply wounded, but committed and courageous heroine.
If you want to know what happened next… well, you’ll have to read the novel.
The most famous story about the DeShazer’s ministry brings us back to where we started—Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who commanded the air attack on Pearl Harbor. A tract DeShazer authored while living in Japan was instrumental in bringing Fuchida to Christ. A few months later, the two were preaching to crowds together—the Doolittle Raider and the Japanese captain who led the Pearl Harbor attack. They brought to thousands the message of God’s sacrificial love for all people, and the power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Jake and Flo ultimately settled in Nagoya, the very city Jake had bombed. Their thirty-year ministry in Japan bore fruit in twenty-three church plants and in many changed hearts.
Rose: Linda Thompson has written an intriguing fiction work based on the story she researched and told in this article. So many of the “Greatest Generation” as they were called are dying off, so it is very important to study as much as we can about their lives, and learn from them and from God as many of those who fought did!