Pearl Harbor Lead Pilot’s Change of Heart
April 15, 2017
An event like Pearl Harbor is sure to leave a mark on everybody, including those who perpetrated the heinous deed that left over 2,400 Americans dead. As Japan entered Hawaiian airspace, the high overcast giving a perfect view of Pearl Harbor, the man at the head of the attacking planes sent a transmission that has echoed through history. “Tora! Tora! Tora!” Captain Mitsuo Fuchida radioed back to his carrier, informing them that the attackers had achieved complete surprise.
On December 7th, 1941, Fuchida was an enemy to the United States, but much changed over the course of his life. By the time he died in 1976, he had changed from being a Japanese fighter pilot to an evangelical Christian with a United States Green Card.
From Foe to Friend
In times of war, it’s not uncommon for the worst in people to come out, so when Fuchida heard the story of Kazuo Kanegasaki, he was shaken with surprise. During the Battle of Midway, Kanegasaki had been captured by American forces. Imprisoned as a POW, Kanegasaki probably expected ill-treatment and abuse.
When Fuchida met with his former flight engineer after the war ended, he heard not of the atrocities of a POW camp but of a kind-hearted woman named Peggy Covell. She looked after Kanegasaki, treating him with respect despite her own parents being brutally killed by Japanese forces during the war.
Fuchida saw the forgiveness offered by an American POW in a pamphlet titled “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.” Just a few years earlier, Fuchida was leading a pack of Japanese fighters and bombers in the most devastating attack on American soil, yet as he read the words of Jacob DeShazer, he became determined that his role in the devastation of Pearl Harbor wouldn’t dictate his life.
Converting to Christianity
In the pamphlet, DeShazer tells of his time in a Japanese POW camp. Unlike Kanegasaki, DeShazer was treated terribly. He suffered through malnourishment and frequent beatings after his capture during the Doolittle air raid, the first attack on Japan’s home islands after Pearl Harbor. For two years he endured, then a guard provided him a bible. Despite the atrocities he faced, DeShazer found forgiveness for his captors and Fuchida found inspiration in the words of the former prisoner.
Shortly after reading “I Was a Prisoner of Japan,” Fuchida purchased his own bible and began to put his past behind him, eventually converting to Christianity. For the rest of his life, Fuchida traveled the United States and Europe to relay his story, to show that one can recover from gross misdeeds to live a fulfilling life.
Thirty-five years before his death on May 30th, 1976, the Japanese captain was directing the first wave of attackers at Pearl Harbor. At the time of his death, that wasn’t what he was known for. The war was behind him and so was everything he had done during it.