Pearl Harbor: The Tale of the Sundays

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The date President Franklin D. Roosevelt said "will live in infamy" was a Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida and his Japanese fighters came roaring out of the Pacific vastness at 7:48 that Sunday morning, heading for the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Like a squadron of giant hornets, they stung a hefty portion of the American Pacific fleet with destruction and death, then winged off into the sunrise.

I was born December 5, 1941, just two days before Fuchida's blast through Pearl Harbor. I came within 48 hours of having to hear my birthday solemnly dubbed for the rest of my life as a "day of infamy."

I could not imagine that 26 years later I would actually meet Mitsuo Fuchida. On a Sunday morning.

The War era was a frightening time to grow up. Among my earliest memories was in 1945, when my mother heard thundering airplanes over our house in Alabama, scooped me up and scurried us under the dining room table to shelter us from the bombs she was certain would soon fall.

But it was an exhilarating period also. By the time I was in kindergarten the young soldiers were marching home. They were my Sunday School teachers, Boy Scout leaders, coaches, and heroes. They brought Nazi helmets, German Lugar pistols, Japanese swords, and tons of other mementoes from the still-simmering battlefields and cities of rubble.

Through the years those symbols of the War that killed millions would tarnish, rust, and get lost in piles of household flotsam. But the thoughts of the youngsters who ferried the tokens of battle home wouldn't disappear as easily.

In fact, the tormenting memories stabbed at Mitsuo Fuchida to the extent that, in the words of his son, Japan's hero of Pearl Harbor "went downhill." After the defeat, Fuchida lived for a while in a Japanese forest, unwashed, unshaven, animal-like, Nebuchadnezzar-like.

Eventually Mitsuo rejoined his family and what was left of civilization, and farmed a small tract of land. As Gordon Prange noted in his book, God's Samurai, Fuchida's thought had never focused on the spiritual. But one night he pondered the North Star, and realized there was a Creator who made the universe and its inhabitants – including Mitsuo Fuchida – for a purpose.

"That night, there on my farm, God began to come into my heart," Fuchida later wrote. And what God starts, He completes. Mitsuo Fuchida, whose voice on December 7, 1941, shouted the attack code – "Tora! Tora! Tora!" – now, with the same voice, proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. Fuchida spent the rest of his life as an evangelist for Christ and His Kingdom.

So, on a Sunday in 1967, Mitsuo Fuchida came to preach in Mobile, Alabama, where our family was then living. Eagerly, I went to hear Fuchida. Afterwards I watched as members of the congregation, most of them impacted directly by Fuchida's actions on December 7, 1941, thronged around him.

Some had paid dearly for what Fuchida had launched on that Sunday 26 years earlier. I marveled now, on another Sunday morning, as they shook his hand, embraced him, encouraged him. I knew I was seeing an historic example of the fruit of Jesus' atonement and reconciliation of people to God and people to people.

Nine years later, on May 30, 1976, Mitsuo Fuchida would die. It was a Sunday.

Yet another Sunday comes to mind, a much more recent one: December 2, 2012. I watched an aged, but lean, fit, and focused man who once would have loved to have had Mitsuo Fuchida in the sights of his B-24 bomber, walk forward in our church, taking his stand for Christ.

Lawrence Sykora was a youthful radio operator and turret gunner on a B-24 part of Major General Claire Lee Chennault's "Flying Tigers." Appendicitis had earlier saved Sykora from being dispatched with his original crew to Europe, where it had been shot out of the sky, with no survivors. (Ironically, Mitsuo Fuchida had missed the Battle of Midway because of appendicitis.) Sykora had been reassigned to Chennault's group, based in China. Larry Sykora survived 39 missions, attacking Japanese supply lines, depots, and air bases.

All those Sundays seem the wild unraveling of a chaotic skein in time, yet they are spun into a striking fabric through the crimson strand of another Sunday, ages ago. On that First Day morning, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, sprang from the tomb, victorious in His mission to reconcile all creation to God.

Larry Sykora, God willing, has some more years to live and bless others with his rich testimony. But someday, Larry, too, will stand at the Throne of God, along with Mitsuo Fuchida.

All because of what happened that Sunday morning 21 centuries ago.