ANZAC Day & the power of forgiveness

I know little of war, real war.  Although my dad served for 5 years in PNG and the Middle East, with the 2nd 1st Survey Regiment during WW2, he spoke very little of what war was like.   What he did talk about were the good times, the mateship, as we poured over his war photos, taken with a smuggled camera. Dad eventually died of a heart attack at 60 and I wish we had been able to talk more of what the war had meant to him – after all it took the best years of his life and had shaped him forever.

War inevitably strips away the trite and trivial and exposes realities of life.  One such “war story” emerged from the Pacific campaign in WW2.  The 3 key players are Jake DeShazer, Mitsuo Fuchida, and Peggy Corvel.

Jake DeShazer was a member of Doolittle’s Raiders who made the extraordinary bombing raids on Japan following Pearl Harbour.  Fuchida was the legendary “top gun” pilot who led the 183 Japanese planes in their attack on Pearl Harbour.  And Peggy – well I’ll come to her.

After Pearl Harbour, the Americans felt they had to hit back quickly at Japan, but they had no bombers that could carry sufficient fuel to fly to Japan and return.  So Doolittle’s Raiders decided to do the job and ditch over enemy territory.  After Jake DeShazer’s plane came down, he was quickly captured and spent 3½ years as POW of Imperial Japan, much of it in solitary confinement … tortured and starved by his captors.

His fellow prisoner, Bob Meder, urged him to trust God who was in control.  DeShazer rejected Meder’s counsel, even though Meder maintained his quiet faith & peace as he was slowly starved to death.  But over time, Jake was intrigued about what could give Meder hope and peace in the midst of such brutality.  Surprisingly the Japanese offered Jake DeSahzer a Bible.  He read it ravenously over the next 3 weeks in solitary confinement, where he’d been denied any reading material to pass the time.  DeShazer records that on 8th June 1944 (after 2 years as a POW) after reading Romans 10:9 he asked God to take command of his life.  He wrote, “My heart was filled with joy” and astonishingly, “I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone.”

Jake decided that if God enabled him to survive the war, then he had been saved for God or a purpose.  He decided he would attend Bible College and return to Japan as a missionary offering God’s peace & forgiveness to the Japanese.  Unlike many wartime promises made to God, DeShazer kept his promise.  In Dec 1948, Jake and his wife, with their 5 children, sailed for Japan to begin what was to be decades of Christian mission to the Japanese.  Tens of thousands of Japanese flocked to listen to the man who had been so brutalised by his captors.  They were stunned how  God had replaced bitterness in DeShazer with forgiveness and love for his torturers.

Jake also wrote a tract called “I was a prisoner of Japan” and a copy reached Mitsuo Fuchida, the hero of Pearl Harbour.  Following the end of the war Fuchida was ravaged by guilt and memories of the deaths he’d experienced.  He withdrew from society seeking an answer.  He determined to write a book on “peace” called “No More Pearl Harbours!”   But Fuchida also despaired, as he could find no principle, no source of peace in the Japanese religions or world philosophies that he studied.

Then, Fuchida met a Japanese soldier, one who had been treated very differently as a POW in the USA.  This lieutenant told Fuchida how a 20 year old named Peggy Corvel brought food and magazines to the Japanese prisoners.  She even nursed them when they were sick.  When asked “why”, Peggy’s reply was “because the Japanese had killed my parents”.  Peggy’s parents had been missionaries in the Phillippines.  They had been wrongly accused and executed for spying.  After her initial bitterness, Peggy too came to mirror her parents’ love and forgiveness for their enemies.   Peggy showed this forgiveness in the way she cared for the Japanese POW’s.

When Fuchida heard this and read Jake’s tract, he believed he had found the power for peace and forgiveness of guilt he had been searching for.  The leader of the Pearl Harbour attack, this devotee of Adolf Hitler, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.  For many years after this, Fuchida joined his former enemy, Jake De Shazer, in preaching the way of eternal peace and forgiveness in post war Japan.    And Fuchida’s book?  He eventually wrote it entitled, “From Pearl Harbour to the Cross.”

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