“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…”
President Roosevelt continued with, what I would imagine, great pain and sadness in his heart as he addressed the nation about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our nation in a single day lost thousands of men and women- service and civilians. Our nation was hurt. Wounded at our heart. Shortly after the attacks our nation retaliated in explosive force [literally] by something called the Doolittle Raids. The retaliation involved a mere 16 B-25 “Mitchell” bombers with 80 airmen total. Not much of a fight in comparison to the 300 that Japan attacked Pearl with in those early minutes. But our men- the Raiders- bombed military establishments in Japan. Unlike any other mission, the Raiders could not return to the aircraft carriers but to land…they had no choice but to crash land in China in hopes of avoiding the Japanese that had infiltrated the Chinese border. We lost some of the Raiders that day. Most returned home. Eight men became POWs, held captive by a merciless enemy.
This is one of their stories. I cannot help but be moved by this man, one of the POWs. He experienced Pearl and the tragedy along with the rest of our nation. He experienced the bombing over Japan. Such vengeance and hatred overwhelmed his heart. He wanted the Japanese to die painfully and without mercy. When his bomber was crashing over occupied China, he and his crew had to parachute out. For 40 months, Staff Sergeant Jacob Daniel DeShazer was held prisoner by the Japanese, tortured and facing death every single day. For 40 months he had no idea when his death would happen, although he thought it was certain. For 34 of his 40 months, he awaited death in solitary confinement. Most of the other POWs had already died. Only 3 made it home when the American armies invaded and freed the camp.
He was not the same man.
Physically DeShazer was malnourished, sick, and nearly dead. Mentally the isolation could have made him crazy. Mentally he could have given up a long time before he did. But Spiritually…something had changed. During his imprisonment, he needed a glimpse of hope to simply survive; he finally received a Bible from his prison guards. They figured it would not matter. They figured it was only a book requested by a prisoner awaiting death. Though he only physically had the Bible for 3 weeks, God began to work on DeShazer’s heart. He saw the messages and stories of the Bible as reason enough to survive, and reason enough to not give up, and as reason enough to believe in a God that was greater than his imprisonment. In August 1945, DeShazer was freed and made his voyage home to America. He would need to recover, to heal, to be restored. It would take time, but it would happen.
He soon married and attended school…to be a missionary.
How can someone who had once be filled with such hatred toward the Japanese, been a prisoner of the Japanese, tortured and nearly killed at the hands of the Japanese, decide to be a missionary to the Japanese? For DeShazer, it was the simple fact that God loves and he had to be that love to to his previous captors. It was not a matter of hate anymore. It was a matter of redemption. If God could redeem him, a man full of hate, could not that same God change the hearts of others? He loved with such a redeeming, forgiving love that Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, was brought into the same story of redemption through salvation in Jesus Christ. Let me say that again..the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, a broken dark day in American history, was saved by the redeeming love of Jesus Christ because a POW was brave enough to love.
“Jacob DeShazer was brave like a Japanese samurai. He was brave as a prisoner of the Japanese. He never yielded to the guards. After conversion he was braver, enough to love [the] Japanese. As a missionary, he never sought fame or wealth, just the lost. He was kind, patient, and humble, for he was a brave Christian. He was brave enough to make the Japanese commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor one of his best friends.”
—Iwao Shimada, Pastor of the church the DeShazers started in Japan
I find his story so incredible. How can I not be moved by the legacy of a man that lived out the forgiveness of Christ? In his forgiveness toward Japan, one of the leading Japanese officers of the Attack on Pearl Harbor came to know Jesus Christ. I have to believe that because of men and women like DeShazer, that my purpose is beyond myself and my situation, good or bad, can be used to glorify God, bringing hope to many. So on this day of December 7, remember this history. Remember those who died and fought valiantly. Remember the soldiers who defended our nation in one of the greatest wars in world history. But also remember the stories of men and women like Jacob Daniel DeShazer who chose to forgive the enemy that hurt him the greatest, because just as Christ died for him, he also died for them. Redemption is always possible.
Check out this video from the man himself.
[this is an old post I updated: originally called A POW’s Forgiveness Towards Japan]