From Bombs to Something More Powerful

by Elsie J. Larson, Copyright Christianity Today International

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.

In Tokyo, DeShazer and the other captives awaited trial.

Their captors tortured them, trying to get information. They put DeShazer on his knees and beat him. They handcuffed one prisoner, Lt. Nielsen, hanging him for eight hours by his hands on a peg, his toes barely touching the floor while others were stretched out on boards for hours. The Japanese strapped others to chairs and beat them. They put towels over their faces and had water poured into their noses and mouths until they nearly drowned.

But within the Japanese military hierarchy, another battle was taking place. General Sugiyama, Chief of the General Staff, was insisting on the death penalty for the Americans. Since the war in the Pacific had just started, General Tojo, then premier, felt the sentence was too severe.

After two months, the flyers were sent back to a Shanghai prison without a trial. Enduring filth and a meager water and food supply, the Americans suffered brutal treatment for seventy days. Each day, rumors of their impending execution filtered back to them. Finally, in a mock trial they were all condemned to death, and each man was placed in solitary confinement.

A short time later, DeShazer learned that Emperor Hirohito (on Tojo's recommendation) had commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. This gave him little hope. If America won the war, he suspected his guards would probably kill him before he could be freed.

Still he tried to maintain his strength. In his 9-by-5 cell, DeShazer placed his hands on one side of his cell and feet on the other and climbed the walls to the only opening?a small window in the ceiling twelve feet above the floor.

He saw four of his fellow flyers for a few minutes a day when they were taken out of their cells to wash and brush their teeth. Nothing from the outside world reached them?no mail, no Red Cross packages, no reading material. They did not know what had happened to the other three flyers, including pilot Farrow. Later they learned the three missing men had been shot.

Hopelessness set in. For almost two years, DeShazer and the others struggled with starvation, fought dysentery and other illnesses, froze in winter without blankets, and baked in summer with no ventilation. At times the airman grew so angry at the brutal guards that he worried about his sanity. In quieter moments he wondered how they could be so inhumane.

Speed-reading Scripture

On December 1, 1943, Lt. Meder died, weakened from dysentery. After his death, things suddenly changed. Someone among the Japanese "higher-ups" decided to keep the Americans alive. Food rations increased and a few books were given to the prisoners. Among them was one Bible.

DeShazer longed to read the Bible, but the guards gave it first to the officers.

In May, after a six-month wait, his turn came. The guard said, "You can keep it for three weeks."

DeShazer grabbed the Bible and clutched it to his chest.

After the door slammed shut, he sat down and started reading in Genesis.

Scarcely sleeping, he read through the Bible several times. The book seemed to come alive; in his dark cell, it appeared illuminated. Certain passages seemed to blaze with brightness.

He read the Prophets six times. Jesus Christ fit every detail prophesied about the Messiah! Clearly Jesus was more than just a good man.

DeShazer memorized Old Testament passages, the Sermon on the Mount, and the first Epistle of John. He thought about what his parents and sister had tried to tell him for many years. Now it all made sense.

When his three weeks were almost up, he read again Romans 10:9?"If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."

He did believe! DeShazer prayed, "Lord, though I am far from home and though I am in prison, I must have forgiveness." He continued to pray until he was filled with inner peace and joy. His dirty cell and the abuse no longer held any horror. Death held no threat. On June 8, 1944, although imprisoned, he was free.

p>With freedom came obedience to God. He yielded himself, his plans, hopes, and dreams to God. Then he wondered how he could show he had been changed.

Loving my enemies

Bad habits and attitudes don't just go away when a person accepts Christ. One day after the exercise period, DeShazer's guard hurried him toward his cell, shoved him inside, slamming the door on DeShazer's foot. Instead of opening the door, the guard kicked the prisoner's foot with his hobnailed boots.

DeShazer desperately pushed the door until he could free his foot. His mind blazed with rage.

However, Jesus' words came to him: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them, which despitefully use you."

Nursing his foot, DeShazer wished for a while that his mind would go blank; instead, all the Scripture God had helped him memorize flooded into his mind. Calming down, he decided, God commanded me to love. What a wonderful world it would be if we would all try to love one another. I'll try.

The next morning was the test. DeShazer greeted the guard respectfully in Japanese.

The guard gave him a puzzled look and said nothing.

Every morning, the prisoner offered friendly greetings and received no response. Then one morning the guard walked straight to DeShazer's cell, and spoke to him through the door. He was smiling. DeShazer asked about his family. From that time on, the guard treated him with respect and kindness, once even brought him a boiled sweet potato. Another time, the guard slipped DeShazer figs and candy.

A year after his conversion, in June 1945, the Americans were transferred to a prison in Beijing (Peking). Conditions were worse than in Nanjing (Nanking). DeShazer nearly died of starvation and disease, but he grew spiritually. Like the prophet Daniel, he knelt and prayed diligently.

On August 6, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, DeShazer woke up about 7 A.M. and was impressed to pray for peace. At 2 P.M., the Holy Spirit told the prisoner, "You don't need to pray any more. The victory is won." DeShazer thought this was a better way to receive world news than waiting for a radio report. Immediately, his thoughts turned to his captors. Wondering what would happen to the Japanese people, God gave him the answer: he was to eventually return to Japan and teach them about his Savior.

Of the eighty men in Doolittle's squadron, sixty survived to celebrate the end of the war.

Enemies turned brothers

In 1948, Jacob DeShazer returned to Japan with his wife, Florence, as a missionary. By that time, Army chaplains had distributed more than a million tracts containing DeShazer's testimony titled, "I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese." Thousands of Japanese people wanted to see the man who could forgive his enemies. In his first few months in Japan, the former Jimmy Doolittle raider had spoken in two hundred places. Soon he, with his wife Florence, helped Japanese Christians to establish churches.

Although the church planting was going well, early in 1950, DeShazer longed for a revival for Japan. He fasted 40 days, praying for the salvation of the Japanese.

A few days after he ended his fast, a man came to his home and introduced himself?Mitsuo Fuchida, flight commander of the 360 planes that attacked Pearl Harbor. After reading DeShazer's testimony, Fuchida had purchased a New Testament, read it, and had accepted Christ.

DeShazer welcomed him as a brother and counseled him to be baptized. Within a short time Fuchida became an evangelist, preaching in Japan and all over the world.

In 1959 a dream came true for DeShazer when he moved to Nagoya to establish a Christian church in the city he had bombed. Because of one shared Bible, the man who first came to Japan in "Bat Out of Hell" returned on the wings of a dove to spread the "peace that passeth understanding" in that country for the next thirty years.

Jacob DeShazer retired from missionary service in 1978. He and Florence returned to Salem, Oregon, where they have been active members of the Salem Free Methodist Church. Many of the churches in Japan that he started continue to thrive.Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine (formerly Christian Reader).
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