For Christians this is Good Friday. For our Jewish brothers Purim. For the Hindus in the audience, Small Holi. In Iran they will be celebrating their New Year while others in Islam will celebrate the birth of the Prophet. And the Buddhists will be celebrating Magha Puja. All these events coinciding in this year at this time, I would classify it as a miracle.
On March 15th the Almighty called back one of His shepherds to receive his Heavenly rewards. On this miraculous Good Friday it is an opportune time to talk of this extraordinary man. Jacob DeShazer was born in 1912 and he might have remained unknown except in 1939 he joined the United States Army Air Corps. By 1941 he was assigned to the 17th Bombardment Group flying the brand new B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. It was here that DeShazer's life took a turn that would shape the rest of his life. DeShazer became one of the Doolittle Raiders. Men who were going to fly 16 B-25s off the US Navy's newest carrier USS Hornet and strike at the Japanese mainland. This mission was one for the history books. And it almost ended before a single plane left Hornet's deck when Japanese trawlers spotted the fast take force. They were 800 miles away and chances of anyone making China were slim. Still Lt. Col. Doolittle and Adm. Halsey made the bold decision to launch the B-25s. DeShazer was the bombardier for Plane #16, the last to take off. After bombing Nagoya, Lt. Farrow's plane raced for China but ran out of fuel before finding a safe landing strip. Except for York's plane landing in the USSR, none of the Doolittle B-25s made safe landings. As for the crews, most managed to land outside Japanese zones of control. Lt. Farrow's crew, including DeShazer, was not that lucky as they were captured. A total of eight Raiders were captured by the Japanese. They were brutally tortured and then, in violation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners, all eight were ex-post facto charged with war crimes like strafing school children under a law that was inspired by the Doolittle Raid. Three of the eight, Hallmark, Farrow, and Spatz, were executed by the Japanese while the others were sentenced, by a merciful Emperor, to life in prison. On December 1, 1943 one of the five surviving prisoners, Lt. Robert Meder, died due to beriberi.
All this time, each man was living solitary in a cell with barely any food or exercise. So they turned inward to find ways of dealing with imprisonment. In the Spire Christian Comics Attack! we learn how DeShazer felt towards the Japanese, hatred burned in his heart for all the cruelty he had witnessed being dispensed, after Meder died this hatred almost drove him insane. While this was happening DeShazer begged for a Bible and was finally allowed one. In Gline's The Doolittle Raid he recounts DeShazer would dabble in poetry and all would meditate on Bible passages they remembered. With the Bible in hand the scales fell from DeShazer's eyes as his hatred transformed into loving pity for his captors who were shackled by their own hatred. Then one day DeShazer heard the Holy Spirit command him to pray, pray hard for peace. So DeShazer prayed until two o'clock when he heard the same voice say it was enough that victory is won. That day was August 9th, 1945 and Bock's Car had dropped the second atomic weapon on Nagasaki. But it would be almost another two weeks before they learned the war was over. And then Americans showed up at the camp and all four Raiders were free at last after 40 months of hell on earth.
If you thought DeShazer's journey was over once being liberated, well thou art mistaken dear readers. DeShazer went home to the US and became a minister. Here is where Jacob did something that should have been unthinkable and for many American POWs of the Japanese it still is to this day. DeShazer went back to Japan as a missionary. During his 30 years in Japan, DeShazer helped start 28 churches and bring the Word of Christ to many. Among those who heard the Word was Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who lead the attack on Pearl Harbor and transmitted the now famous code grouping 'To ra! To ra! To ra!' When reading of Fuchida's experiences, one would be hard pressed not to see some divine hand present. From being sick with appendicitis during the Battle of Midway that prevented him from flying and lead to his evacuation when so many of his fellow pilots perished to landing at the still smoldering ruins of Hiroshima and living while the others in the team died, something or someone definitely guided him. And then Fuchida encountered DeShazer outside the courthouse in Japan where he was testifying about war crimes. Fuchida read DeShazer's story of being a prisoner and then studied the Bible himself before converting to Christianity.
Truly DeShazer was a good shepherd. One who did not stay where it was comfortable tending the 99 sheep. But the one who would brave the thickets and treacherous paths to find that one solitary sheep and bring them back to the fold. G_d speed Jacob DeShazer and thank you for all of your sacrifices.
For further reading:
PDF of Jacob DeShazer's I Was a Prisoner of Japan.
Jacob DeShazer's page on the Doolittle Raiders web-site.
The Doolittle Raid by Carol V Glines, Schiffer Military History.
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Capt. Ted Lawson, Random House.
Miracle at Midway by Gordon Prange, Penguin.
At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange, Penguin.
Attack! by Mitsuo Fuchida, Christian Spire Comics.