An Unlikely Damascus Road

by W. THOMAS SMITH, JR. December 6, 2015

A Review: From Pearl Harbor to Calvary

A few days before the 74th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, I was introduced to a little book which revealed to me one of the most amazing stories of Christian conversion I had ever heard or read. The book - FROM PEARL HARBOR TO CALVARY (originally published in 1959 as From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha) - tells the story of Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida, a pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy, who commanded the entire first wave of the attacks on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

What makes Fuchida's story extraordinary is that he not only participated in the infamous "sneak attack" which led to America's entry into World War II; but he led the initial attack from the front. He survived the war, including two crash landings and an assignment as leader of a suicide-attack squadron; he become a Christian after the war, and in time a missionary in the U.S. leading others to Christ.

FROM PEARL HARBOR TO CALVARY is something of a Saul (Paul) of Tarsus tale, not so much in terms of any dramatic road-to-Damascus conversion, but in the sense of Fuchida firstly being a sworn enemy of America and secondly God's tugging on the heart of a man we might otherwise deem wholly unsuited to be a leader tasked with furthering the Kingdom. But as we read in the book of Isaiah, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the Lord."

Indeed. Who would have dreamed the first man to attack the anchored and sleeping American fleet in Pearl Harbor was destined to become a postwar Christian missionary, and commit himself to the service of the Lord until his passing in 1976?

The story begins with Fuchida's birth, 1902, and boyhood growing up in a small village near Nara, Japan. It continues with his appointment in 1920 to the Japanese Naval Academy. Twenty-one years of service later, Fuchida found himself aboard the carrier Akagi, a 39-year-old Naval Aviation commander - soon to be promoted to captain - making his way to the admiral's quarters on that fateful morning in 1941. He writes, "The Akagi pitched and rolled under my feet in the rough sea. White surf whipped across the flight deck in startling contrast to the predawn blackness."

At 5:30 a.m., Fuchida was standing before and reporting to the great Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

"I am ready for my mission!" Fuchida said.

Nagumo firmly grasped the younger officer's hand and said, "Fuchida, I have confidence in you."

Two hours later, the first wave (a mixed package of 183 warplanes including dive-bombers, torpedo-bombers, and fighters) was roaring over the northernmost tip of Oahu and deploying to attack.

At 7:40 a.m., Fuchida, flying the lead in a Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo-bomber slid-open the canopy of his plane and fired a green flare. It was the signal to attack. The entire force was then ordered, "Plunge to attack!" The dive-bombers struck Hickam Field, Ford Island, and Wheeler Field. The torpedo-bombers - including Fuchida's plane - struck the battleships, cruisers, and other vessels in the harbor. The fighters strafed the bases and roadways.  

At 07:53 a.m., Fuchida ordered the transmission of the code, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" signaling to the Japanese fleet that his squadron had achieved complete surprise. By the time the first-wave finished the initial strike a little after 8:05 a.m., Fuchida recalled, "My heart was ablaze with joy for my success in getting the whole main force of the American Pacific fleet in hand." He added. "In the years that were to follow, I would put my whole hate-flamed effort into conducting the war."

Fuchida's wartime survival was nothing short of miraculous. He was literally blown into the sea by a terrific explosion when the Akagi was hit during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. He later crashed at sea and was rescued. He crashed in the jungle and was rescued. He was ordered to lead a suicide attack team that never deployed. And the day after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, Fuchida was sent to assess the damage to the city. All the members of the assessment team reportedly died of radiation poisoning except Fuchida who never showed any symptoms of being exposed to the deadly radiation.  

After the war, Fuchida struggled mentally and emotionally with what had happened to his country. It wasn't simply the loss of the war, but the deep shame associated with that loss. "I was bitter and disillusioned," he writes.

Fuchida settled into civilian life. He built a house, dug a well, and took up farming. And it was through his daily tilling of the soil that he began to see creation in nature. He also began to wrestle with ideas like forgiveness, absolute selflessness, and unconditional love which previously had been alien to him.

Encouraged to read the Bible by a tract handed him on the street in Tokyo and then a newspaper editorial about the Bible, Fuchida began to read the life-transforming Gospel of Luke, and was particularly moved by Jesus' words as He was being crucified by the Roman soldiers: ""Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

FROM PEARL HARBOR TO CALVARY details Fuchida's surrendering to God's calling, his becoming a Christian missionary and returning to America, this time not as an enemy commander leading an attack. But as a simple man, seeking truth and bearing "the Good News." Along the way, he meets and befriends the Rev. Billy Graham; Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, who led the famous B-25 raid on Tokyo in 1942; and various other theologians, dignitaries and military leaders.

If there is a downside to this book it's that, editorially speaking, the translation from Japanese to English should have been fine-tuned a bit. Though perhaps the raw translation leads to a better grasp of Fuchida's voice. And the book, being short (just under 95 pages) lacks depth. The book's strengths are, of course, the content, the obvious sincerity throughout the story, and - just as brevity was a downside - brevity is also a strength. Why? You can read FROM PEARL HARBOR TO CALVARY in an hour, and frankly it would be an hour worth spending this Pearl Harbor Day.

W. Thomas Smith Jr. - a former U.S. Marine rifleman - is a military analyst and partner with NATIONAL DEFENSE CONSULTANTS, LLC. Visit him at http://uswriter.com.



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