Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Forgiving Everything"

A year ago at this time (the first week in Dec.) my posting was about “God’s Samurai.” That was what Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida, the lead pilot of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was called after he later became a Christian. This column is more about that same story, but it centers on Jacob DeShazer, a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps on that fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941.
DeShazer, born in Oregon in 1912, enlisted in the Air Corps in 1940 and rose to the rank of sergeant in 1941. He was stationed in Washington at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, but shortly thereafter he, along with other members of the 17th Bomb Group, volunteered to join a special unit that was formed to attack Japan. They soon acquired the name “Doolittle’s Raiders” after their famous commander, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle.
In April 1942, DeShazer and his fellow crew members were forced to parachute into enemy territory when their B-25 ran out of fuel. He was captured the very next day by Japanese soldiers and consequently spent some 40 months in P.O.W. camps (both in Japan and China)—and 34 of those months in solitary confinement. During his long, painful ordeal as a prisoner, in May 1944 he was able to get a copy of the Bible. Reading it brought about a great change in his way of thinking.
At the end of the war in August 1945, DeShazer was freed and able to go back to the U.S. He soon decided that he wanted to go into missionary work and began to prepare for that ministry at Seattle Pacific College. During this time he wrote a short account of his experiences, calling it “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.” That story was printed as a Christian tract, and more than a million copies were distributed to the Japanese people.
It was a copy of DeShazer’s tract that Timothy Pietsch gave to Capt. Fuchida that eventually led to his becoming a Christian. (As I wrote last year, Pietsch was the son-in-law of C. K. Dozier, founder of Seinan Gakuin, the school complex where I taught in Japan. In May of this year, I heard this story directly from Pietsch’s son Kelsey, who was visiting Seinan Gakuin at the same time I was.)
“From Pearl Harbor to Calvary” (2011) is the title of the English translation of Fuchida’s autobiography. Florence DeShazer wrote the Introduction and refers to her husband as Jake. She concludes: “The autobiography that follows tells the full story of my husband’s dear friend, Mr. Mitsuo Fuchida, a man who, like Jake, was completely transformed by the Lord and preached and lived a message of forgiveness.”
In his book Fuchida tells that after he finished reading DeShazer’s story, he thought, “If a Bible could change his life, it might change mine.” So the next day he bought a Bible and began reading it. And when he read about the crucifixion of Jesus, he realized there was “the source of this miracle of love that can forgive enemies!”
“Forgiving Everything” is the subtitle of the story of DeShazer as told by Ace Collins in his book “Stories Behind Men of Faith” (2009). He is also the subject of a children’s book, written by Janet and Geoff Benge and published with the subtitle “Forgive Your Enemies” (2009).
DeShazer lived to be 95 years old, passing away in March 2008. His long life of loving and forgiving is worth considering well as once again recall the tragic events of 12/7/41.


  1. I just received word from my son Keith saying that he and Brenda (his wife) were classmates of Jacob DeShazer's daughter Ruth at Christian Academy in Japan. I hadn't remembered that, but found it quite interesting.

  2. Forgiving and seeking forgiveness are two very difficult practices for all, including those who devoutly follow Jesus Christ. Probably more for the latter. Both are truly needed, and more so the longer we live and are bound with the sins of bitterness and arrogance. These stories are good reminders. God grant us humility and grace.

  3. Local Thinking Friend John Bush, who is 91, sent this comment (and gave permission for me to post it here):

    "Great story. A lot of us WWII vets hold no bitterness to the Japanese people as we believe their young people didn't want to fight as we didn't!"

  4. Local Thinking friend Eric Dollard sent the following comments along with permission to post them here.

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your intriguing story. It is interesting how the Bible affects people differently. DeShazer and Fuchida became Christians after reading the Bible, but sometimes the opposite happens. A few years ago, a soldier from Ft Riley KS spoke at the Community of Reason; he said that he had been an atheist for about five years. He had grown up as a Baptist. I asked him why he had become an atheist and he said, 'I read the Bible.'

    "What I have found is that fundamentalist Christians and many atheists read the Bible literally. The fundamentalists believe all of it and the atheists, none of it. I think there is a middle way; the Bible is a complex book with different genres and lots of metaphors. It has some terrible stories, but it also has some very beautiful and deeply moving stories. (One of my favorites is found in John 7:53-8:11, where Jesus forgives a prostitute whom the Pharisees wanted to stone. I am still moved whenever I read it. Oddly enough, the story is not found in the oldest manuscripts of John.) But that is the fascination of the Bible--its complexity, its different perspectives, and its greatness as literature."

  5. A long time ago in philosophy class I was taught that a good question is worth more than a good answer. Due to the frequently confusing and sometimes just plain wrong answers in the Bible, one of the liberating moments in my pilgrimage of faith was when I got up the courage to lay down the Answers, and focus on the Questions instead.

    Interestingly, I found the Bible there waiting for me. "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me.'" (Job 40:6-7, NRSV) The vexing conundrums of the Bible find a new life as questions in this great exam. Just as there are mysteries deep in the heart of quantum mechanics that both vex and inspire physicists, the sacred questions of the Bible stand solemnly before us.

    As an example, consider the question God asked Cain, "What have you done?" (Genesis 4:10) I used to read this as an all-knowing God smoking out the sinner Cain. When I let the text speak to me without all that theological baggage, I realized there was another way to read it. What parent (or even pet owner) has not said just the same thing when entering a room and making a horrifying discovery? Perhaps some family heirloom lies smashed on the floor. Perhaps crayons have been applied where no parent would ever have approved. Perhaps something even worse had happened. As God continued, "Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!" I had not previously heard the great agony in the question. I had to let the Bible be free before I could understand anything.

    As a book of questions, I have no trouble accepting the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. A Word whose elegance and simplicity far outshines my rambling effort to agree with Eric's conclusion.

  6. Leroy, the story of Fuchida, DeShazer, and the Covells is indeed one of the most extraordinary stories of WWII and, after years if research, I am releasing a new book of the full story, which is endorsed by Fuchida's daughter and by Ravi Zacharias. You can read the first four chapters and find out more here:

    1. Martin, thanks for writing and telling me and my blog readers about your book. I look forward to seeing it.