Last night, as Trinity Presbyterian Church held a special patriotic program to dedicate five military flags (Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force), I was asked to represent the Air Force and present the story of Doolittle’s Raid over Japan. The text of my speech is below. My thanks to Justin Rojek for the information about Bombardier Corporal DeShazar.
It was 70 years ago, April 1942. America was still reeling from Pearl Harbor only four months earlier and needed a strategic and psychological victory. Thus was born Doolittle’s Raid (http://www NULL.ghspaulding NULL.com/doolittle_raid NULL.htm) over Tokyo.
Eighty airmen were quickly selected and trained for the mission. Together, on 18 April, possibly remembering those brave minutemen roused to action by Paul Revere “on the eighteenth of April of seventy-five,” they boarded sixteen B-25 bombers and departed the aircraft carriers, knowing they would not have enough fuel to return to the carriers and would have to overfly to China. The raid was a success, inflicting moderate damage but doing wonders for American morale.
God was with them! Their fuel was so low, they would not have reached China were not for a tailwind, but most of them crash-landed off the coast of China and were rescued by Chinese soldiers and an American missionary named John Birch.
But for some, their ordeal was only beginning. Eight airmen were captured by the Japanese and taken to Tokyo, where they were repeatedly interrogated and tortured. Bombardier Cpl. DeShazar was beaten severely; Lt. Chase J. Nielsen was handcuffed and hung from a peg on the wall for eight hours; others were stretched out on boards with towels over their faces. What we today denounce as “waterboarding” was a constant feature of their day. The Japanese regularly promised to execute them, and three of them died by firing squad.
But with God’s help, the rest persevered. Their treatment improved a little; they were given bread along with their rotten potato peel soup. They were also given a Bible, which they passed among them. Cpl. DeShazar recalled, “When I got that Bible, I thought about how the Christians believed the Bible — believed it was the Word of God. And God didn’t lie. And so I read that Bible to find evidence that it is the Word of God. And right away I found the evidence.”
In his dimly lit cell, DeShazer read the entire Bible several times through and the Prophets six times. He spent many hours tracing prophecies to their fulfillment and memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, the Epistle of 1 John and other verses that spoke to his quickening heart.
He must have gotten the Bible again later because he remembers that on June 8, 1944, he received assurance of his salvation when his eyes fell once again on Romans 10:9. “Boy, that hit me! It was the best news I’d ever heard in my life. There are just two things: you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart. And I did! I believed at that time — and I do yet — it’s God’s Word. I believe heaven came down there in that prison cell.”
Then, on Aug. 10, 1945, that DeShazer heard the Lord audibly directing him to pray for peace — without ceasing. He did so, until precisely 2:30 p.m., when he sensed he was to stop. Unknown to him and his comrades, atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki within the previous five days, and the emperor’s surrender would be broadcast on Aug. 15. God was at work. The war was over. The captives were set free.
Cpl. DeShazer then attended Seattle Pacific University, and in 1948, after he earned his degree, he returned to Japan. He recalls the Japanese asking, “What happened to you? Why did you come back? Didn’t they hit you and spit on you and treat you mean? Why do you want to come back here? … And I started to tell them all about Jesus.”
He found the Japanese eager to learn about — and respond to — the God of Christianity. It is estimated that there were some 30,000 conversions during DeShazer’s first year in Japan — as many as 10,000 during one 10-day campaign. Included were many of DeShazer’s former prison guards, even the one who had delivered the Bible to the prisoners in Nan king. God’s hand was on that man from the beginning, and throughout the War.
As we close, please travel with me in spirit to the Museum of the Air Force (http://www NULL.nationalmuseum NULL.af NULL.mil/), where you will see a stunning display. There, in a case guarded by two airmen, are eighty silver goblets (http://www NULL.doolittleraider NULL.com/the_goblets NULL.htm), each inscribed twice with the name of a Doolittle Raider — once right-side up, once upside down. Seventy-five are upside down, representing those who have passed away. Five remain upright. Each year, the survivors meet, and toast those who have passed on. Four of the five survivors attended their seventieth reunion last week.
In the center of the display is a bottle of Hennessey Cognac. When the day comes, the last two surviving Raiders will hold one last reunion to and raise their goblets in one farewell toast to their departed comrades. And in so doing, they will mark the end of an era. And like Doolittle’s Raid, they will become history, and history will mingle with legend.
Let us honor those who have suffered and those who have died to preserve American freedom and Christian civilization, as they await the Final Trumpet Call of God.