Skip to site content

How Japanese Pilot at Pearl Harbor Became God’s Samurai

Dec. 7, 1941, was a big day for Mitsuo Fuchida, a day he had long prepared for and looked forward to. For, you see, Fuchida was the lead pilot of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And his life story is quite amazing.
I have heard Fuchida’s story from time to time through the years, maybe first in 1954 when his article “I Led the Attack on Pearl Harbor” appeared in Reader’s Digest, which I often read when I was in high school.

But I have just finished reading for the first time a book that impressively tells of his preparation for 12/7/41, his battles over the next 3½ years, and then the remarkable story of his becoming a Christian and an evangelist after the war.

The book is titled “God’s Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor” (1990).

Gordon W. Prange, professor of history at the University of Maryland, is the primary author of “God’s Samurai,” but it was not published until 10 years after his death in 1980.

Prange’s manuscript, completed by two colleagues, was based mostly on his extensive interviews of Fuchida in the mid-1960s.

Prange and Fuchida first met in the late 1940s and had regular contact with each other until Fuchida’s death in 1976.

Lieutenant Fuchida was thrilled when he was chosen to lead the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“No moral qualms assailed him,” according to Prange. So it was that on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Fuchida led the attack, triumphantly shouting over the radio to the other fighter planes following him as they neared Pearl Harbor, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

(Tora, the Japanese word for tiger, was the code word indicating that complete surprise had been achieved. “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was the title of a 1970 movie on the Pearl Harbor attack. Prange was a technical consultant during its production.)

Prange remarks that after the attack Fuchida “was filled with pride of his men and of himself, and from his standpoint he had every right to be. The airmen had succeeded beyond all expectation.”

The next 150 pages narrate events in the Pacific War, detailing the initial Japanese successes, the decisive battle of Midway that changed the course of the war, and then the dropping of the atomic bombs and the subsequent end of the war.

It was rather miraculous that Fuchida came through all that alive.

A little over three years later in October 1948, Fuchida was handed a Christian tract near the famous Hachiko (a dog) statue in Tokyo.

Nearly a year later, he decided to become a Christian, and then contacted the man whose name and address was on the tract. That man was Timothy Pietsch, a missionary.

I was quite interested to see Prange’s reference to Pietsch, for his wife, Helen, was the sister of Edwin Dozier. And Dozier was the chancellor of Seinan Gakuin in Japan when I became a faculty member of the university there in 1968.

(Although I never met Pietsch, I have met his wife, Helen, and their son. And their grandson, Billy Pietsch, is one of my Facebook friends.)

After becoming a Christian, Fuchida soon began giving his testimony and later sailed with Timothy Pietsch to the United States where he spent several months, speaking in numerous churches and even being interviewed by Billy Graham. That interview was telecast on Graham’s “Hour of Decision” on Dec. 7, 1952.

The story of Mitsuo Fuchida is a fascinating one, and Christians can easily understand why he has been called God’s Samurai. 

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.