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Pearl Harbor 73rd Anniversary: Seeing God’s Sovereignty as Attack on Pearl Harbor Is Remembered

( [email protected] ) Dec 09, 2014 11:52 AM EST

Pearl Harbor Survivors Salute at 73 Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Attack
Pearl Harbor survivors salute for a moment of silence at the USS Chung-Hoon at the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Photo: Pacific Business News)

On Sunday, some 100 Pearl Harbor and World War II survivors gathered at the Visitor's Center main lawn at the monument in Oahu, Hawaii to observe the 73rd anniversary of Japan's attack on the U.S. military base. 

In attendance were four of the nine remaining survivors of the USS Arizona - the ship that rests in the harbor sits just under the monument that millions of visitors pass over annually.    

During the ceremony, a Japanese peace prayer by the Japanese Religious Committee for World Federation was featured, along with a Hawaiian blessing and a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the bombing began. F-22s from the Hawaii Air National Guard 199th Fighter Squadron and Air Force 19th Fighter Squadron conducted a flyover.

"By honoring our past, we inspire our future and assure the events of this day 73 years ago are not forgotten," General Lori Robinson, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, said in a keynote address. 

On Dec. 7, 1941, the first bomb hit the harbor at 7:55 a.m.  It was the start of a two hour and 20 minute barrage that would leave some 2,400 sailors and civilians dead, and more than 1,100 injured.

For Imperial Navy Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese flight commander who led the attack, his tactical planning proved to be a tremendous success.  As the architect of the operation, he personally mapped out the approach to every aspect of the effort.  He trained the men, created the strategy, picked the day and even ordered the number and types of bombs to be used.

Though the attack on the small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was preceded by a declaration of war, U.S. code breakers had difficulty deciphering and reaching the end of the long message which appeared to be a threat that negotiations with Japan were off.  Unfortunately for the U.S., the declaration of war didn't come until the end. 

Upon receiving the letter, Gen.  George C. Marshall, U.S. Army chief of staff, sent a warning to the U.S. military in Hawaii, but due to static, his message was not received until the attack was over.

While dozens of Japanese planes were detected by a private at a U.S. Army radar station, the spotting was brushed off as nothing of concern since a fleet of U.S. B-17 bombers were expected to arrive from California.

With 350 planes flying into Pearl Harbor in two waves, Fuchida and his men methodically hit the U.S. base in the early morning hours.  When he and his pilots were finally headed back to the carriers, the U.S. loss was devastating. 

Thousands dead, another thousand injured, 188 planes and 21 vessels destroyed, and 159 planes damaged.  The USS Arizona - stocked with more than 500 tons of gunpowder - exploded into 100 foot flames and caused 1,177 men to perish.  The Japanese lost just 29 aircraft. 

In less than three hours, the Imperial forces had annihilated their target, and won the battle.

Fuchida's radio command of 'tora, tora, tora' would become the infamous go-ahead for the attack that pulled the U.S. into war.  On Dec. 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed Congress, calling the prior day 'a date which will live in infamy.'   Less than one hour after his speech, the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan as Fuchida drank champagne with his men in celebration.

But even then, God was working on Fuchida's heart, and would continue sparing his life as the war raged on.

For his success at Pearl Harbor, he was decorated by Emperor Hirohito, and would go on to narrowly escape death during attacks in Midway Atoll and Hiroshima.  He would even learn that the plane he flew to Pearl Harbor that fateful day was not mechanically sound and should have crashed into the ocean.

After an exceptional military career - one that would have made his samurai grandfather proud - Fuchida returned, unsatisfied with life, to his family's chicken farm.  Living with his wife and two children, he was unfamiliar with farming life and unhappy.

"It was a rainy day in my life," he recalled in his book 'From Pearl Harbor to Calvary.'  "Life had no taste or meaning. ... I had missed death so many times and for what? What did it all mean?"

When World War II was over, the U.S. began conducting a war-crimes trial, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur summoned Fuchida to Tokyo in 1947. 

Determined to do his own investigations before the trial, he talked with Japanese soldiers who had been U.S. prisoners of war.  Surprised, he heard accounts much different than expected, and learned of a missionary, Peggy Covell, who cared for the Japanese men during captivity. 

Fuchida was shocked to find that Covell's own parents were killed in the Philippines by Japanese soldiers.  He became curious about Christianity, and started wondering about a God that could provide so much forgiveness.

Further evidence of God's direction in Fuchida's life came in the late 1940s when he crossed paths with a missionary after exiting a train.  He was handed a pamphlet that told the story of Jacob DeShazer, a U.S. pilot, who had been held captive and tortured by the Japanese for nearly three and a half years. 

"His story, printed in pamphlet form, was something I could not explain. Neither could I forget it," Fuchida wrote.  "The peaceful motivation I had read about was exactly what I was seeking. Since the American had found it in the Bible, I decided to purchase one myself, despite my traditionally Buddhist heritage."

With God's word in his possession, Fuchida found himself devouring it quickly and eagerly. 

"I read in Luke 23:34 the prayer of Jesus Christ at His death: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' I was impressed that I was certainly one of those for whom He had prayed," he wrote.  "The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not understand the love which Christ wishes to implant within every heart."

On April 14, 1950 - less than a decade after the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor - its mastermind prayed for forgiveness and gave his life over to Christ.

"Right at that moment, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time. I understood the meaning of His death as a substitute for my wickedness, and so in prayer, I requested Him to forgive my sins and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living."

Until his death in 1976, Fuchida devoted his life to evangelism.  Though some accused him of embracing Christianity to impress Americans, God would prove wrong by using him greatly to win souls across Asia.

"I would give anything to retract my actions...at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible," he wrote in his book.  "Instead, I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ."

For more information about the monument at Pearl Harbor and the events commemorating the 73rd anniversary, visit the Pacific Historic Park's website.