How my Grandfather became a serious Christian

Leonardo V. Magdamo

Credits to Dennis Magdamo

Credits to Dennis Magdamo

“Who will believe our report? To whom shall the arm of the Lord be revealed?” wailed Isaiah. I have a report about two men. Will it be believed?

Pardon the ego trip for a while, for my report begins with me. It was a day after my fifteenth (15th) birthday that early in the morning, Don Bell of KZRH in Manila, announced: “There is war in the Pacific. Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.” A pall of gloom descended upon the town. Then came reports of troop landings in Lingayen, Hongkong and Indo-China. We had to get out of town. We knew how the Japanese soldier behaved in China. Calling him a barbarian was putting it mildly.

Bataan fell, then Corregidor and finally they landed in our town. We were already living in the hills. We couldn’t afford to be seen by them. We had to grow our own food and dodge their patrols. The guerrilla movement sprang up like spontaneous combustion. That angered the Japs all the more. They became more cruel and beastly. Then I found myself “conscripted” by the guerrillas. I did not mind. Many officers were family friends. On the night after I left, a Japanese patrol captured my family and two American missionary families. They beat up my father with rifle butts for hiding the Americans and brought all families down to their garrison. (My family slipped out of the garrison during one of the air raids).

The guerrilla warfare was not that theatrical, really. Nationalistic bravado was unknown. We just wanted the Japs out. They were no good. When the Japanese regiment surrendered after the war, the American MPs surrounded the prisoner-of-war camp not to keep the Japs in but to keep the guerrillas and smoldering civilians out.

Peace time at last! Back to normal. College, marriage, the rat race. Twenty four years later, the company I worked for formed an engineering team that would travel to Japan to negotiate for equipment for a paper mill to be constructed in Mindanao. I was a member. The technology was American. So I had an American engineer counterpart. Our plane landed in Tokyo’s Haneda airport at close to midnight. I could see the man placing chocks under the plane’s landing gear. He was wearing a Japanese army uniform. My blood started to boil again. Here I was, 24 years after the war, still willing to tear a Japanese apart. How could I forget him when scars were still on my father’s back.

For more than two weeks, we held marathon technical meetings. Then one Sunday, three of us; two American counterparts and me, decided to go to church. The hotel told us there was a church for expatriates near the Shibuya railroad station. We went there; arriving late. We had to take the front seats. The service was already half through, and we arrived just in tine for the sermon. The American pastor said, “Our guest speaker will introduce himself”. A small Japanese gentleman, dark for a Japanese, rifle erect, strode to the pulpit. “My name is Mitsuo Fuchida, (followed by a bow). I was the commander of the Pearl Harbor attack.”


The three of us practically shot our of our seats. My American companions were Pacific war veterans. “I am a samurai with 40,000 flying hours to my credit,” continued Fuchida. Charlie on my right groaned. He was a Hellcat fighter pilot with 1,200 flying hours to his credit. “You must be wondering how I am behind this pulpit. I will tell you how.” Then Fuchida proceeded to testify. What follows is a paraphrase.

After attending a war crimes hearing where he was a witness, Fuchida proceeded to the Shibuya railroad to catch a train for home. As he entered the station, an American offered him a tract, which he hurriedly stuck into his pocket just to be polite and walked on. He was in a hurry. Halfway through the trip, when he was somewhat rested, he decided to read the tract. It was entitled “I Was A Prisoner Of The Japanese.”

From the pulpit he displayed the tract, now laminated in plastic, almost three feet long, written on both sides, and folded like an accordion. It told of the Doolittle raid and its aftermath. Col. Doolittle was tasked to lead a squadron of medium bombers to bomb Japan — to avenge the Pearl Harbor attack. The mission was not quite successful even if it alarmed the Japanese. All planes were lost. Among the survivors was a bombardier by the name of d’Shazer. He was captured and imprisoned. Physical torture and indignities heaped upon him was the daily standard fare in prison.

The once-upon-a-time happy-go-lucky d’Shazer, now battered and daunted, did the next best sensible thing to do. He went to God. He asked for God’s forgiveness and baptized himself with rain water dripping from the roof of his prison. Since he was convinced that God forgave him, he thought it but fair that he forgave his jailers too. He started befriending his jailers to their bewilderment. Their blows became less and less painful. By the time the two atom bombs were dropped, he was already on friendly terms with his jailers. He was forthwith sent home and forthwith basked in freedom. Then — surprise! — he enrolled in Bible College. After four years, he went back to Japan as a Christian missionary. It is this d’Shazer who was distributing tracts near the Shibuya station and who gave Fuchida one.

Who is this d’Shazer, Fuchida wondered. What was he doing in Japan? He was the victor, back to his old comforts. Why is he back here peddling this thing called “Love of God”? What kind of God is He who d’Shazer is so crazy about? The two finally met and naturally d’Shazer evangelized Fuchida.

In this process, Fuchida found meaning in why he did not sink with the aircraft carrier Akagi during the Battle of Midway. He found meaning in why in the aftermath of the Hiroshima holocaust, all his junior officers died, but not he. He found meaning in why he was not indicted as a war criminal. He realized he was being groomed for a job by a God he did not know.

The most moving part of Fuchida’s sermon that Sunday morning was an experience he had while idly flipping the pages of his Bible. His flipping stopped at the page where verse 34 of the 23rd chapter of Luke can be found. What leapt out of the page was: “Father, forgive Fuchida-san for he knows not what he is doing.”

“Immediately the memory of Pearl Harbor came roaring at me while THAT MAN hanging on the cross and absorbing all that sinning, was pleading with His Father, the author of the universe, to forgive me, Fuchida-san, who was at that time operating the world’s fiercest killing machine.”

I returned to the Philippines virtually in a daze. What is it that could turn Fuchida around? He was no ordinary Japanese. He was a samurai, skilled in the art of war and trained to kill. And d’Shazer. He hardly made sense. But then, did he have to? Look at the fruit of his ministry. And who am I to doubt that this Jesus who these two are working for means business?


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