By Bill MacLeod, Executive Director
Memorial Day exists to help us remember those who fought and died for our great country and our freedom. There was one who fought but did not die for our country, but who became a missionary to those who had made him a prisoner of war – so they might know the life and freedom Jesus Christ offers.
He was born in Stayton, Oregon to parents who loved Christ; read the Bible daily and took him to church and Sunday school – but he was not interested. After graduating from Madras High School, he eventually joined the Army. He volunteered to be part of a secret mission that led to a bombing raid over a foreign city, parachuting out of his plane when it ran out of fuel, only to be taken captive when he landed behind enemy lines.
The guards in the prison camp tortured him and the other prisoners and as he watched some succumb to their mistreatment, his hatred for them grew. In solitary confinement he wondered what made people hate other members of the human race, and what made him hate them? For over three years he was interred in this POW camp and one day, after about two years, one of the guards gave him a Bible. He read it through from cover to cover several times until he came to Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Finally, he understood the faith he had been brought up with but had never been able to grasp; surrendered his life to Christ and began to forgive his captors. He soon began to treat his captors with respect and found that they, then, in turn reacted in similar fashion. Fourteen months later, the war ended, and he was released from prison. He returned to the USA with a deep desire to attend Bible college to become a missionary – in order to return to the land of his captivity armed this time with the gospel. He wrote of his experiences in a gospel tract entitled: “I Was a Prisoner of Japan”.
In a different part of the world, another man was being prepared to go to war, also as an airman. He rose through the ranks and earned the position of commander. His big moment came when he was put in charge of a great attack utilizing 423 aircraft that was very successful. Two months later he led another major attack. He became a hero in his country, but as the war continued, people forgot what he had accomplished, and he was demoralized. He miraculously escaped the bombing that ended the war in the city where he had been just the day before.
Called upon to testify after the war at trials for some of his own military war crimes, he was filled with revenge and was convinced that his people had been mistreated at the hands of their captors just as his people had mistreated their prisoners. He was surprised to meet his former flight engineer who had been taken captive but had not been mistreated. In fact, his friend told a surprising story of a young lady whose missionary parents had been killed by their country’s soldiers, but who had returned to minister to them with the deepest of love and respect during their imprisonment. Not too long afterwards, he was at a train station in his country when he was handed the pamphlet: “I Was a Prisoner of Japan”.
The prisoner of war from Stayton, Oregon, was Jacob “Jake” DeShazer, who had been part of “Doolittle’s Raiders” over Japan, finally finding Christ in a Japanese POW camp before WWII ended. The commander was Mitsuo Fuchida, commander of the air attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941; who found Christ as a result of reading Jake DeShazer’s pamphlet: “I Was a Prisoner of Japan”, then also searching the Scriptures to see if it was true…after having missed the bombing of Hiroshima by one day…
Jake returned to Nagoya, Japan as a missionary where he served for 30 years with his wife Florence; and Mitsuo became an evangelist preaching in the US and Japan, and writing three books, including one about his conversion entitled “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary”. The two men whose love of Christ overcame their hatred and revenge, became close friends and led evangelistic meetings throughout Japan where many followed Christ.
I never had the privilege to meet Jake DeShazer personally, but I did interview him by phone before his death in 2008. Mitsuo passed away in 1976. Their stories are among the most incredible to come out of WWII. Never underestimate the power of the gospel to transform lives!