December 7th is the anniversary of the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, a day which, according President Roosevelt, would live in infamy.
My friend Hugh Hansel was an adolescent in 1941. He had gone fishing on a sunny Sunday in northwest Ohio and, when he returned home, he found the adults agitated and fearful. Over the next couple of years, Hugh watched older schoolmates go off to the war. He saw how they and their parents wept at their parting, and his young heart developed a deep hatred for the Japanese.
Fast forward to the next decade. Hugh had himself seen combat in Korea. After returning home, he and his wife Phyllis moved to Upland, Indiana, to attend Taylor University and pursue a degree in education. While he was there, it was announced that Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, would be on campus to speak. Signs began going up around Upland, calling on people to boycott Fuchida’s speech.
But Hugh wanted to see the monster who had attacked an unsuspecting enemy. He was filled with hate toward the Japanese generally and toward Fuchida in particular. Yet, by the time Fuchida’s speech ended, he had experienced a complete change of mind. He waited for Fuchida, not to give him a piece of his mind but to shake his hand.
The story he heard Fuchida tell was remarkable. Because of his success in the war in China, Fuchida was chosen to lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. Over Pearl Harbor, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and returned to base with 21 holes and an elevator cable that dangled by a single thread. He had evaded death by a hair.
Fuchida was again to lead the attack on Midway, but he suffered appendicitis and was forced to remain on the aircraft carrier Akagi. A dive bomber from the USS Enterprise scored a direct hit on the Akagi and Fuchida was injured. He was rescued from the smoking deck, transported to a destroyer, and taken back to Japan to recover. None of the squadron he was supposed to lead that day returned. Fuchida survived again, seemingly by chance.
Because he was injured, he was assigned to a staff position with Vice Admiral Kakuta. Just weeks before the American invasion of Guam, Fuchida was ordered to Tokyo. When the Japanese effort to repel the invasion failed, the Vice Admiral and all his staff committed seppuku – ritual suicide by disembowelment. Again, Fuchida was spared.
He was then sent to Hiroshima. On the evening of August 5, 1945, he was abruptly ordered to attend a briefing 500 miles away. The next morning, the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb that killed tens of thousands instantly and tens of thousands more in the ensuing months. Fuchida was immediately sent back to Hiroshima to assess the damage. Everyone on the team died of acute radiation poisoning, except him.
Following the war, Fuchida met a soldier he had served with who had just been released from an American POW camp. He was surprised to hear that he had been well-treated and shocked to learn that one of the people caring for him was a woman whose missionary parents had been murdered by the Japanese.
Later, when ordered to testify at the war crimes trials (which he considered a travesty of justice), Fuchida was handed a tract written by an American prisoner of war, Jacob DeShazer, who had come to faith in a Japanese POW camp. DeShazer had undergone a radical change, from hatred for his captors to genuine concern for them. Fuchida himself eventually came to faith in Jesus and became an evangelist. He traveled to Hawaii many times, where he mourned for those who died at Pearl, and told the survivors about how Jesus can change hatred to love.
That is what Fuchida was doing when my friend Hugh met him at Taylor. A shared commitment to Jesus broke down the barrier between them and replaced their hostility with respect. It is still doing so today, in race, family, and working relationships—even in our fractured, fractious world.
First published by Gatehouse Media.