Finding the Hornet Raises Powerful Memories

by Neil Earle

On Tuesday, February 12, CBS-TV reported on a significant discovery over 3 miles down in the South Pacific. The research vessel Petrel located the famous American aircraft carrier USS Hornet that had been sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz Island in October, 1942 while she covered the US troops on Guadalcanal.

Hornet had been at Midway when the American navy ambushed elements of the Japanese Imperial Navy which held the line in the Pacific and saved the West Coast from attack. The Hornet’s most famous action had come in April 1942 as the launch pad for the famous Doolittle Raid when sixteen B-25s and eighty fliers lifted off from the deck of the Hornet – at sea during the Pearl Harbor attack – and humiliated Japanese pretensions by dropping some light bombs on Tokyo giving the American people an immense morale boost!

Richard Nowatski had been a gunner in the stern on the Hornet when she met fatal attack six months later. Now 95 years old the ramrod straight navy vet was astonished to see the actual gun he had been firing through the lens of the deep-sea cameras before the carrier took 140 sailors with her to the bottom.

“If you look inside my locker you can find 40 bucks,” the imperturbable Nowatski joked.

Matsuo Fuchida with Jacob DeShazer – enemies in war who became brothers in Christ.

Astonishing Turnarounds

The history of the Hornet is a startling enough tale but, as the saying goes, I told you that story to tell another one. Several Doolittle raiders were captured and one of them, Jacob DeShazer, had been bombardier when their B-25 hit a Tokyo suburb. As a Japanese POW DeShazer was horrified by the execution of three of his fellow-prisoners. He asked his guard for a Bible and began to study and pray incessantly. He prayed for release but also for the spirit of forgiveness to deal with his often brutal captors. This took some doing as is related in C.H. Watson’s DeShazer: The Doolittle Raider Who Turned Missionary. DeShazer and his wife came back to Japan in 1948 as a Methodist minister and eventually helped build churches and schools in a partial atonement for the damage he had helped cause during the war. Then – incredibly – his pamphlet he wrote on being a Japanese POW and how he had learned to forgive his captors reached the attention of Mitsuo Fuchida.

Matsuo Fuchida with evangelist Billy Graham.

Fuchida was the cocky pilot who had planned and led the first strike at Pearl Harbor. He was samurai in spirit where the quest for vengeance was a massive part of the informal code of the warrior. He was disgusted at first that DeShazer had actually forgiven his deadly enemies. That wasn’t the way warriors thought! Somehow the shock led Fuchida to enquire more about this strange religion and – you guessed it – he was led to conversion. Soon he met DeShazer and the two often teamed up at missionary meetings across Japan.

A famous picture of Fuchida with young evangelist Billy Graham proves the point: God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform! He died in 1976 and DeShazer lived to the ripe old age of 95 back in the Northwestern United States with his family around him.

Two men divided by mortal combat united by the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of Christ. A strange but beautiful twist to the tale of the finding of the Hornet proves once again that truth is often stranger than fiction.