Doolittle Raider from Madras becomes missionary to Japan
A few years ago, while my wife had been perusing nickel-priced books for our children at the Neat Repeat, a well-worn story of a Doolittle Raider who became a Japanese prisoner of war caught my eye in the history section.
Authored by C. Hoyt Watson, "The Amazing Story of Jacob DeShazer" truly ended up being just that, amazing. My interest was stoked when I found that DeShazer had his roots in Madras, but after graduating from Madras High School, he had difficulty finding his niche. Farming in Central Oregon or driving mule teams near Alturas, California, weren't for him, and raising turkeys in Medford made him broke. Finally, he found himself in the Army Air Corps based out of Tacoma, Washington.
After Pearl Harbor, DeShazer despised the Japanese and wanted revenge. His opportunity came when he was chosen to be a bombardier on a B-25 with the Doolittle Raiders. The Raiders stripped down the heavy bombers so that they could do the impossible: launch off the short runway of an aircraft carrier while loaded down with bombs and fuel. The idea was to sail close enough to Japan on the carrier Hornet, get the bombers airborne, hit important targets in Japan and then land in a part of China unoccupied by the Japanese.
On April 18, 1942, DeShazer's bomber Bat out of Hell was the last to take off. Things started out a bit rocky when just before takeoff the previous plane's tail broke a segment of the Plexiglas windshield in front of DeShazer. As the tail end of the forward bomber was pushed away, a crewmember was thrown into one of Bats' propellers, severing his arm.
DeShazer's crew ended up hitting their target near Nagoya, Japan, but bailed out when their fuel ran out. Unfortunately, their landing was in an occupied part of China, and all of the crew was captured within a few days. Fifteen of 16 bombers crashed, but incredibly, 77 of 80 crew members survived. All but eight evaded capture, five of whom were from DeShazer's crew.
As a prize catch, the captives were paraded around before being placed in various prisons where they spent the next three and a half years being tortured, beaten and starved, often in solitary confinement with little to keep them warm in the bitter cold. They were sentenced to death, but in an act of mercy, only three were shot and killed, one of which was the beloved and respected pilot, Bill Farrow.
While the years of suffering and mistreatment in Japanese prisons continued, DeShazer was filled with rage and bitterness toward the enemy. Eventually, the prisoners were given some books from a limited library. Each book would be placed in a cell for three weeks and then rotated to another cell. One of the books passed from cell to cell was the Bible.
DeShazer had not been interested in religion, but lately, a spiritual hunger developed within. When the Bible was thrown in his cell, he was able to read through it twice in the allotted time. A spark lit in DeShazer's heart as he read about Jesus and His love for sinners, even those who had wronged, abused and murdered Him.
DeShazer took steps of obedience to Christ and looked for opportunities to love his enemy. He spoke words of kindness to his guard, Aota, and surprisingly received softer treatment from him. Near the end of the war, the Lord spoke to DeShazer that the conflict would soon be over, and that when Japan would be in a desperate state as a people, he would return to bring the message of love, hope and life that is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his fellow captives were freed by an allied rescue operation a few days later.
DeShazer enjoyed his newfound freedom and recovered from his emaciated state with great home-cooked meals by his mother back in Oregon. However, the call to return and minister in Japan was strong, and he didn't waste any time getting an education equipping him for such a task.
He wrote a book, "I Was a Prisoner of Japan," that shared his story of rage toward the Japanese, the abuse he suffered, and his path to forgiveness and grace. Within three years, he and his new wife, Florence, and young child, Paul, were on Japanese soil, beginning the task of spreading the hope of the gospel to his former enemies.
DeShazer's book was distributed throughout Japan, along with pocket Bibles and gospel tracts. Many people were touched by the message of forgiveness of one's enemies and came to faith in Jesus Christ. Among these individuals was a young woman named Tomiko, whose fiancé was killed by the bombs dropped from Bat the night of the raid. Though Tomiko went to one of DeShazer's outreach events with a knife desiring to kill him, she was touched by the gospel and was softened on the spot. DeShazer's former guard, Aota, also found him at an event and realized forgiveness and reconciliation with both DeShazer and Christ Jesus.
One man trying to find his way through hopelessness after the war was Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida led the attack on Pearl Harbor and was the very one who yelled the famous "Tora! Tora! Tora!" He had overseen nearly every naval air operation Japan undertook during the war and served as atomic bomb damage inspector at Hiroshima. The only inspector to escape radiation poisoning, Fuchida had known something divine was beginning to draw him and was set on a path to find how the "peace that would last a thousand generations" promised by Emperor Hirohito could ever be possible. After years of desperation, Fuchida read DeShazer's book, was given a Bible and came to the hope of salvation found in Jesus.
DeShazer, Fuchida, Aota and Tomiko would become close friends and partner with one another in ministering to the Japanese people for the rest of their lives.
(Also recommended reading, "Wounded Tiger" by T. Martin Bennett.)
Rory Rodgers is the pastor at Calvary Chapel of Crook County. He can be reached at 541-416-9009.