December 7, 1941?the bombing of Pearl Harbor?changed the world. For Army Corporal Jacob DeShazer, an amazing drama was just beginning.
Like most young Americans in the armed forces, DeShazer was eager to strike back at the enemy. He volunteered for a dangerous secret mission under Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. For a month, DeShazer and about twenty other Army Air Corps volunteers trained in Florida, concentrating on low flying maneuvers. The Oregon recruit was getting an advanced course on being a bombardier in preparation for the first U.S. raid on Japan.
On April 2, 1942, DeShazer was on the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet, watching the Golden Gate Bridge grow smaller as the aircraft carrier transported sixteen B-25 bombers toward Japan. The "Bat Out of Hell" (De-Shazer's plane) was number sixteen, last in line.
A little more than two weeks later, bombardier DeShazer and his pilot, Lieutenant William Farrow, along with the co-pilot, navigator, and rear gunner, learned the true goal of their mission?to bomb Tokyo and surrounding cities. When two Japanese ships were sunk by the Americans nine hundred miles offshore, the command was given on the Hornet: "Army personnel, man your planes." It was April 18, 1942. They were eight hundred miles away from land, four hundred miles further offshore than originally planned for launching.
The planes would not be returning to the carrier. They would have to land in China and elude the Japanese occupation forces there. It was a great risk for Doolittle's raiders. But the men were willing to take the risk in order to strike a demoralizing blow to the Japanese homeland.
DeShazer caught his first glimpse of Japanese people at 1 p.m. from where he crouched in the nose of the plane. It was a beautiful sunny day over Nagoya, three hundred miles south of Tokyo. People on the ground looked up and waved, not recognizing their enemy. Lt. Farrow called over his headphone, "Get ready to drop bombs at 500 feet. There's the target."
DeShazer spotted oil storage tanks straight ahead. As the plane passed over, he sighted down the angle line, releasing one incendiary bomb and then two more.
Farrow circled the target. Fire engulfed the tank, but it had not exploded. Anti-aircraft flak burst around the Americans' plane, and the smoke from the shells was blowing through a hole in the nose. Farrow veered away and flew over a factory-type building where De-Shazer dropped the last bomb. The "Bat Out of Hell" headed for China.
Radio signals they had expected to guide them never came. Night fell and heavy fog obscured any landmarks on the shoreline. With the plane quickly running out of fuel, Farrow gave the order to jump. DeShazer followed orders.
I could die, the bombardier realized, falling in the dark. He had been raised in a Christian home, but had not accepted Christ. He just couldn't believe that Jesus was anything more than a good man. Now, it seemed dishonest to yell for God at the last minute. So he didn't. Across the Pacific, his mother, awakened from her sleep, was praying for him at that moment.
DeShazer landed hard in a Chinese graveyard, breaking some ribs. He was alone. After walking for several hours, he was taken prisoner by ten Japanese soldiers. After marching to a Japanese field camp, DeShazer was questioned endlessly. He told them nothing.
(Only much later did he learn that of the sixteen planes, one bomber diverted to Russia where the crew was interned; eleven crews bailed out, and four crash-landed.)
Four other American prisoners and DeShazer were flown to Nanjing (Nanking), China, to a prison camp. There was more interrogation before a judge. Finally, the judge said in English, "In Japan it is a great honor for a judge to cut off a prisoner's head. Tomorrow at sunrise, I will have the honor of cutting off your head."
The next morning, without breakfast, blindfolded and handcuffed, DeShazer was removed from his cell. When his blindfold was removed, the prisoner saw a camera instead of a sword. Instead of executing him, the Japanese put DeShazer and seven other flyers on another plane. After being airborne for hours, the bombardier peeked through his blind-fold in time to see Mount Fuji.