Faithful Heroes: Jacob DeShazer
Jacob Daniel DeShazer was born on November 15, 1912 in West Stayton, Oregon. He grew up a farm boy, who always wanted to be a pilot.
After graduating high school, he eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940.
“On Sunday December 7, 1941, while peeling potatoes, DeShazer heard news of the attack on Pearl Harbor over the radio. He became enraged, shouting: “The Japs are going to have to pay for this!”
Following Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for a special unit formed to attack Japan. This group soon acquired the name Doolittle’s Raiders. “The raid was a success despite the task force being sighted and forced to launch the bombers earlier than planned, but part of the plan included flying the airplanes to bases in China, where they were to be refueled and made part of the Tenth Air Force.”
While attempting to reach safety in China, DeShazer and the remainder of the B-25 crew were forced to parachute into enemy territory when their B-25 ran out of fuel.
DeShazer and his crew were captured by the Japanese the next day. The fall DeShazer took when he landed in a cemetery left him injury.
The men were held in Prisoner of War camps for almost four years, three of which were spent in solitary confinement. While in prison, DeShazer was severely beaten and malnourished and struggled with the loss of other crew members due to the firing squad and starvation.
While in captivity, he persuaded one of his guards to loan him a copy of the Bible, which he only had for three weeks. But, during this time he resolved to become a devout his life to Christ and that was the reason he had survived. Part of this experience, included learning a little Japanese and treating his captors with respect, which resulted in them treating him with respect in return.
DeShazer recalled, “I begged my captors to get a Bible for me…At last, in the month of
May 1944, a guard brought me the bok, but told me I could have it only for three weeks. I eagerly began to read its pages. I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity. I realized that these people did not know anything about my Savior and that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel.”
“When I got that Bible,” he recalls, “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.”
According to a published interview with his wife, “after so much time reading the bible, and wanting desperately to be baptized, Sgt. DeShazer saw the rain coming in his window as an opportunity to wash away his sins, and to give his life to Jesus. Where there is a will there is a way. Sgt. DeShazer found his baptism inside that small cell where he was a
prisoner of war. The cell could hold him prisoner, but could not keep him from his destiny, to be a man of God.”
DeShazer and others in the camp were freed when American soldiers parachuted into the camp at the end of the war on August 20, 1945.
Upon returning to the United States, “Staff Sgt. DeShazer was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his part in the Doolittle Raid.”
He then entered Seattle Pacific College and began to study to become a missionary. While there he met Florence Matheny and the couple married on August 29, 1946.
“When DeShazer learned that the war was over, to his amazement he felt God telling him to return to Japan to share the love of Christ. The Bible Literature International organization printed 1 million pamphlets of DeShazer’s testimony, “I was a Prisoner of Japan,” for distribution throughout the country.”
In 1948, he returned to Japan with his wife, Florence. The couple would have five children together.
In 1959, DeShazer moved to Nagoya to establish a church in the very city which he had bombed over a decade earlier.
While in Japan, DeShazer met Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. The two men became close friends and Fucida was led to Christ by a tract DeShazer had written. “Commander Mitsuo Fuchida was the lead pilot of the 360 planes that attacked Pearl Harbor. He gave the order to attack, and then shouted the famous attack signal, “Tora!, Tora!, Tora!” (Tiger!, Tiger!, Tiger!) The successful attack against the United States made Fuchida a national hero. One day in October 1948, while waiting at a rail station in Tokyo, Fuchida was handed DeShazer’s I Was a Prisoner of Japan. He was ready to throw it away, but he noticed that it was written by a courageous Doolittle flier, so he read it with keen interest.”
Fuchida went on to become a missionary in Asia and the United States. The two men often preached together, especially when they were both serving as missionaries to Japan.
Upon retirement, in 1977, the DeShazer’s returned home to Salem, Oregon.
When the movie Pearl Harbor was released in 2001, Jacob DeShazer was an honored guest at the premiere.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor.
Jacob DeShazer entered glory on March 15, 2008 at the age of ninety-five. His widow followed him to glory on July 5, 1917.
His story is told in the movie Return of the Raider.
Jacob DeShazer is an example of how God can use any situation or circumstance to transform lives for Him and his good. DeShazer exhibited forgiveness towards the Japanese and returned to bring the people who were once his enemy and captor into his friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.
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