Monday, May 27, was Memorial Day in the U.S. Since 1971 the observance of the holiday to honor especially those who have died in military service has been held on the last Monday in May.
For many years prior to that, though, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, and that is still said to be the “traditional date” for holiday.
It is somewhat ironic, then, that Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 died (in 1976 at the age of 73) on May 30.
On the very day that many people across the U.S. were honoring loved ones or friends who had been killed by Japanese bombs and bullets 35 years earlier, the life of the man who led the attack on that “day of infamy,” as President Roosevelt called it, came to an end from complications of diabetes.
But as I wrote on this blog last December, Fuchida’s life was greatly changed after he received a Christian tract from a Baptist missionary in October 1948.
That missionary was Timothy Pietsch, and I just learned earlier this month that his son Kelsey, when he was only five or six years old, would often go with his father and stand on a Jeep singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Japanese as his father passed out tracts.
They don’t know, of course, which day it was that Fuchida received the tract that was instrumental in changing his life.
Kelsey Pietsch’s mother was the only daughter of C. K. (Charles Kelsey) and Maude Dozier, a newly-wed couple who went as missionaries to Japan in 1906. Ten years later C. K. Dozier led in establishing what in Japan is called a “mission school.”
That school, which had only 104 junior high boys when it was opened in 1916, is now Seinan Gakuin, an educational institution that is comprised of a nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school, junior-senior high school, university, and graduate schools (including a law school). Altogether there are well over 10,000 students.
On May 15 of each year, Seinan Gakuin celebrates Founders Day, which I was able to attend this year. Kelsey Pietsch, the founder’s grandson who is now a pastor in California, was also there and was one of the speakers.
In his remarks, Pietsch briefly told the story of his father’s connection to Mitsuo Fuchida, and after the ceremony he showed me a picture of Fuchida and the Pietsch family in front of their home in Tokyo.
As some of you may remember, when I wrote about Fuchida last December, I introduced the book about him, published in 1990 under the title “God’s Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor.”
Mitsuo Fuchida in 1959
The author, Gordon W. Prange who was professor of history at the University of Maryland, called Fuchida “God’s samurai,” for after becoming a Christian, Fuchida soon began giving his testimony and later sailed with Timothy Pietsch to the United States where he spent several months, speaking in numerous churches and even being interviewed by Billy Graham.
So during this Memorial Day week as we honor those Americans who died in military service, maybe it is not so odd, after all, also to remember Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese war pilot turned Christian evangelist who happened to die on May 30.