Friday, December 16, 2011

Meeting God's Samurai, Mitsuo Fuchida

One of the vivid memories I have from my childhood is personally meeting Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who led the first attack wave on Pearl Harbor, and who immortalized the words, Tora, Tora, Tora. When I was about 10, my dad insisted that I go with him to a Youth for Christ meeting in San Diego, where this remarkable man and former enemy of the United States was speaking.

Over the years, Dad had conveyed many of his stories from his years serving on a couple of repair ships, first the USS Vestal and then later on the USS Hector. As a Pearl Harbor survivor, his most lucid memories were of that surprise attack on December 7, 1941. Until this evening, however, the memories he shared seemed more like  mere adventure stories told to an excitable son. And though I was always impressed with his accounts, I was not prepared for the significance of this encounter. 

That evening, Capt. Fuchida presented a little of the story of his life, with only a humble mention of the major role he played on that "date which will live in infamy."* The presentation must have been a little over this kid's head, for I don't remember much of what he said. I do remember, however, that the crowd was somewhat sparse, which was surprising, given Fuchida's strong connection to America's entry into the war in 1941. But that did allow for Dad and me, after Fuchida's talk, to make our way up to the front to meet this singular and mystifying man, the fount of Dad's most momentous memories. 

After the meeting, very few people seemed to linger around Fuchida. In fact, I only recall my Dad and me. I was apprehensive, but a little curious to see what would happen. I don't remember his exact words, but I vividly recall Dad extending his hand to Mr. Fuchida and introducing himself as a young sailor who was there on that infamous day. Fuchida was warm and gracious, his comments kind and conciliatory. I wonder now, that he must have had dozens, or hundreds, of such encounters after the war. Had each one been as friendly as tonight's? Shaking hands that night almost 50 years ago, left a deep impression: Two former enemies meeting as Christian brothers. Not a trace of animosity. Hatred transformed into brotherly love. A powerful recollection still today.

Long after the war, Fuchida wrote,
I would give anything to retract my actions of twenty-nine years ago 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.
And that is what I witnessed that night between my dad and his former enemy. That is the memory that sticks with me.

Here is a little of Fuchida's backstory after that dreadful day at Pearl Harbor. It seems that during the occupation of Japan, while stepping from a train, Fuchida was handed a pamphlet at random by a stranger. It recounted the remarkable conversion to Christ of an American POW, Jake DeShazer, who was taken captive in 1942, when, as a member of Doolittle's Raiders, he dropped bombs near Tokyo, and then was forced to parachute into China. Remarkably, after reading this pamphlet Fuchida was led to purchase and read a copy of the Bible. When he read about the crucifixion of Christ in Luke 23:34, especially Jesus' prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” Fuchida said he was certain he was one of those for whom Jesus 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, and 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.
Fuchida would go on to write about his conversion,
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, and 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. 
After the war, Fuchida had a successful Christian ministry in his native homeland and, amazingly, in the United States, too. Gordon W. Prange documents Fuchida’s life and work in his book, God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor. Fuchida wrote his own testimony in “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary” and “Beyond Pearl Harbor.”

Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida died 36 years ago, in Japan, on May 30, 1976. But his testimony as a true believer in Jesus Christ remains. In his own words:
That morning [December 7, 1941]… I lifted the curtain of warfare by dispatching that cursed order, and I put my whole effort into the war that followed… [But] 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.
I was only a young boy 50 years ago when my dad insisted I go along with him to meet this remarkable former enemy. I'm grateful for Dad letting me witness the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

*For Fuchida’s recollections of the attack see Eyewitness to History

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