Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Odd Person to Remember on Memorial Day

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.


  1. Thanks for the history and biography, Leroy. I'm pleased to learn these things, especially about Seinan Gakuin.

    My column on Memorial Day this time was really about how, in the modern world, nationalism and political ideology trump faith in the life commitment of people. So I'm wondering whether the Christian faith that Fuchida embraced would have made any difference, had he embraced it before 1941. What do you think? What did Japan's pre-war Christians do during the war?

    1. Thanks for posting comments again, Anton. I read and appreciated your column, as usual.

      I certainly do think that embracing the Cristian faith earlier would have made a great difference in what Fuchida did--although given the strength of the nationalism and political ideology he grew up under, it would have been extremely difficult for him to have become a Christian in the late 1930s.

      Many of the pre-war Japanese Christians compromised their beliefs in order to escape imprisonment or death. And having not been in such a situation, I can't say what I would have done in the same situation. But there were some who remained faithful to Christ--and suffered the consequences.

      There were compromises made by Seinan Gakuin, and even in his prayer at Founders Day last month, the Dean of Religious Activities at SG prayed for God's forgiveness for the unfaithfulness of the school during the war.

  2. A most interesting posting today. I was intrigued by the earlier post about Fuchida.

    A Happy Memorial Day to you, and a safe journey home.

  3. As I recall my church history, the early church has something of a Pearl Harbor experience, and the man leading that charge came to be known later as Saint Paul.

  4. Thanks, Craig, for your pertinent (and uncommonly short) comment. I used what you wrote to mention my blog posting on Facebook.