Mitsuo Fuchita was just shy of 40 years-old during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When he took off in the observer's deck of a Nakajima B5N2 'Kate' torpedo bomber that day, he probably never imagined he would spend much of the rest of his life in the country he was set to destroy.
A B5N2 "Kate" Torpedo-bomber with dummy torpedo launching from the deck of the Imperial Japanese carrier Akagi. (WWII Museum)
Commander Fuchita was in the lead plane of the first wave of bombers that hit Hawaii that day. He was the overall tactical commander in the air and led the attacks that destroyed American air power on the ground and crippled the Navy's battleship force — a strike group of 353 aircraft from six Japanese carriers.
It was Mitsuo Fuchita who called the infamous words "Tora! Tora! Tora!" over the radio to the other Japanese planes.
He later wrote:
"Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive bombers and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury. As smoke began to billow and the proud battleships, one by one, started tilting, my heart was almost ablaze with joy. During the next three hours, I directly commanded the fifty level bombers as they pelted not only Pearl Harbor, but the airfields, barracks and dry docks nearby. Then I circled at a higher altitude to accurately assess the damage and report it to my superiors."
Fuchita next led the Japanese bombing of Darwin, the largest enemy attack ever wrought on Australia. He then led attacks on British Ceylon — now known as Sri Lanka — where he sank five Royal Navy ships.
He was still aboard the Akagi during the Battle of Midway, perhaps the most pivotal naval battle in American History.
When Midway began, Fuchita was below decks, recovering from appendicitis. He could not fly in his condition so he assisted other officers, coming up to the bridge during the fighting. When Akagi was evacuated that afternoon, Fuchita suffered two broken ankles as the bridge, already burning, exploded.
A6M2 Zero fighters prepare to launch from Akagi as part of the second wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was soon promoted to staff officer rank and spent the rest of the war on the Japanese home islands. Fuchita was even one of the inspectors who went to assess Hiroshima after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city.
When WWII ended, he left the Navy and converted to Christianity after reading a pamphlet written by Jacob DeShazer, one of the Doolittle Raiders who was captured after the raid. He was converted by the pamphlet but was astonished upon meeting DeShazer a few years later.
He called the meeting his "day to remember," referencing the attack on Pearl Harbor. The experience with the Doolittle Raider changed him "from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living," Fuchita wrote after the war.
Mitsuo Fuchita with Jacob DeShazer and family after WWII ended.
After his conversion, Fuchita toured the United States and Europe as a traveling missionary, regretting the loss of life he inflicted during the war. America, the country he attacked in 1941, eventually became his permanent residence. He wrote numerous books about his wartime experiences and conversion to Christianity.
Though he spent much of the rest of his life in the U.S., Mitsuo Fuchita died in Japan in 1973.