Forgiveness at Pearl Harbor

Last March, my husband and I were spending our anniversary in Hawaii. I was very excited to see the Pearl Harbor monument for the first time and couldn't wait to get there. I knew that I would learn more about the history of the event, but I had no idea what was in store for me.

As we waited for our group's turn for the movie and ferry to the USS Arizona monument, Marty & I browsed the souvenir shop. We heard that a survivor of the bombing would be speaking in the courtyard outside. Fascinated, we hurried over to listen.

Dr. Joe Morgan, a handsome 79 year-old man was humble as he recalled the nightmare attack of the Japanese on Peal Harbor. His voice was soft and intense with the memories still vivid sixty years later. Joe was stationed at on the southwestern shore of Ford Island, which is right in the center of Pearl Harbor. It was his lot that infamous Sunday morning to pull duty in Aircraft Utility Squadron Two. At 7:55 am, he heard the planes diving. At first Joe assumed they were the usual planes that came in ahead of the aircraft carriers. Then the bombing began.

The nineteen year-old Texan, who had joined the Navy to "see the world", was confused as the .25 caliber machine gun bullets rained down around him. As he watched his fellow sailors fall, hit and bleeding around him, his confusion turned to a horrified fear that gripped his heart. He then heard the loud explosion on the runway and as he looked up he saw the symbol of the rising sun. It was then that he realized they were being attacked by the Japanese Imperial Navy. His first instinct was to hide, so deep in the hangar he found a steel "I" beam and squeezed into it for protection. Seeing the other young men around him scramble for handguns and weapons of any kind, he felt ashamed of himself. Running outside to face his attackers, Joe saw a machine gun abandoned and took up his post, frightened and shaking in his number eight shoes.

Filled with a deep and intense fury, Joe felt a burning hatred for the Japanese nation as he fired and shot down the Japanese planes. He watched the Japanese midget submarines gunned down and sunk with satisfaction in his heart. Although Joe was a Christian, he found himself unable to shake off the hatred he felt for the nation that had so shockingly killed many young American men.

As the battle raged on, Joe fought hard and with hatred he had never known. The battle finally ended, with 2,403 Americans killed, 68 of them civilians. The men were unsure if the Japanese would come back, so Joe and many others stayed at their posts all night, ready for another attack. During the night, Joe said a prayer that changed his life. He promised God that if he survived that war, he would become a preacher.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed Joe's life forever, and although he kept his word to God, he never quite got the feelings for the Japanese nation out of his heart. Joe was transferred to the island of Maui three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Joe and Blanche, still together today, were married the day before his transfer.

As I stood, hypnotized and carried back sixty years, I glanced over and watched Blanche. She obviously adored him and their son who stood next to Joe, his arm around his father as he recounted his tale of the day that lived in infamy. Tears filled my eyes as I saw the incredible love within this family and listened to the horror this sweet elderly man had survived.

As Joe's soft voice continued, the rest of this amazing story played out. Joe became a pastor of the Wailuku Baptist Church in Maui in August 1954, fresh out of the seminary.

Although impressed by Joe, his mesmerizing firsthand account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and by his dedication to keep his promise to God, I was jolted at the next part of Joe's story.

Two years after Joe became a pastor, Mitsuo Fuchida came to Maui. Mitsuo Fuchida was the commander of the naval air forces that led the attack on Pearl Harbor, beginning with Ford Island, on December 7, 1941.

It had been fifteen years since Joe had survived that attack, but he still had mixed feelings about listening to Fuchida's story. After much turmoil and debate, Joe decided to go and listen to Commander Fuchida. He listened with awe as Fuchida told of becoming a Christian. After Fuchida's talk was over, Dr. Joe Morgan went up and introduced himself to the man who had led the attack that changed his life.

Mitsuo Fuchida immediately bowed and said one word in Japanese. "Gomenasai." He said simply. "I am sorry."

What happened next was as an important moment as any other in history. Fuchida reached out to shake Joe's hand and as Joe clasped his former enemy's hand in his, he realized all the anger and animosity toward this man and his country were gone. God had replaced them with forgiveness.

Joe Morgan and Mitsuo Fuchida shook hands, not as enemies, but as brothers in Christ.

Tears filled our eyes as Marty and I stood, listening with awe and deep emotion. Our call came for the tour, and we had to tear ourselves away from this incredible story of forgiveness and of God bringing two former enemies together to meet as brothers.

Once they were shooting at each other. Now, brothers in Christ, they would fight a common foe: hated and unforgiveness. I learned a lot at the Arizona Memorial, but I did not expect such an impact of one solitary act. Forgiveness at Pearl Harbor.

Susan Fahncke Copyright 2001

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