Through Greatest Peril: Doolittle Raid Veterans Reflect

Through Greatest Peril: Doolittle Raiders Reflect

The verses we memorized as children suddenly came alive and became as vital to us as food. We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.

— George Barr, Jacob DeShazer, Robert Hite and Chase Nielsen, WW2 veterans reflecting on their experience as downed airmen imprisoned by the Japanese.

Because Remembering Is Important

This year has made a number of things clear to me, and one of them is that remembering our history–yes, the good, the bad, and even the ugly–is crucial. 

This weekend marks the anniversary of the Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, a crucial early victory in World War Two—and the story that inspired both my novels, The Plum Blooms in Winter and The Mulberry Leaf Whispers. Every year I do what I can to memorialize the occasion. And every year, I find some fresh truth in the story of how four Doolittle Raid heroes triumphed “through the greatest peril of their lives.”


What Made the Doolittle Raid So Extraordinary?

You may have seen the raid briefly but movingly depicted in the 2019 Midway movie.

To give some quick background, a stealth task force consisting of two carriers (U.S.S. Hornet and Enterprise, Dick Best’s carrier featured in the movie) and their escort vessels brought sixteen of the Army’s medium-weight B-25 bombers within range of Tokyo. In an unprecedented plan, the bombers would launch from Hornet. They would drop their payloads over Japan. But they were too heavy to return to the carrier, so they would fly on to landing fields in China.

The technical challenges were daunting. But with Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, one of the world’s foremost aviation pioneers, in command, solutions got found.

On April 18, 1942, a mere four months after Pearl Harbor, eighty volunteers took flight on their perilous mission. The Doolittle Raid was a brilliant military success. But due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, the sortie left almost all of the airmen stranded in enemy-occupied China. Two crews—eight men—were captured by the Japanese.

In the movie, we last see the Raiders downed and on the run in provincial China. My first novel follows the gripping true story of eight of those airmen–“Doolittle’s Lost Crews.”

At the Midway Movie

I put my “Rosie” 💪🏼 on to see the Midway Movie

They were captured and endured the rest of the war—forty long months—as P.O.W.s, facing the worst the Japanese army could bring.

Doolittle Raider Robert Hite Captive in Tokyo

Doolittle Raider Robert Hite, captive in Tokyo, April 1942. Detail from a WW2 publicity poster.

Here’s the Bit That Speaks to Me Right Now

Jacob DeShazer, in particular, began this journey as an outraged and embittered man. His peaceful and prosperous nation had been the victim of an underhanded attack that had murdered thousands. His entire way of life had been threatened by a militaristic, totalitarian regime. Jake dropped his payload of four bombs over Nagoya in full confidence that he was putting his life on the line to fight a mortal enemy for a righteous cause.

We did not have to have speeches to point out what was wrong with Japan. Every person [on Hornet] seemed to know that Japan was an outlaw… The Japanese were taking things that didn’t belong to them. They had started the war. These American men were ready to fight…

If you saw or read Unbroken, you have a general picture of what captured airmen experienced at the hands of the Japanese army. But where Louis Zamperini was a prisoner for a little more than two years, Doolittle’s “lost crews” remained in Japanese prison camps

…for forty long months, 34 of them in solitary confinement. We were imprisoned and beaten, half-starved, terribly tortured, and denied by solitary confinement even the comfort of association with one another. Three of my buddies were executed by a firing squad about six months after our capture and 14 months later, another one of them died of slow starvation…. The bitterness of my heart against my captors seemed more than I could bear.

– Corporal Jacob DeShazer, I Was a Prisoner of Japan

Tragically, the trial they suffered was so severe that only four of the eight men survived it. But their prison experience had a clear turning point. I’m deeply moved by this joint statement these four real-world heroes made as they looked back on it.

We were not what you would call religious men before we were captured. We went to Sunday school and church when we were kids… But we never really understood the meaning behind those words and the source of strength they represented in our lives….

We were given the Bible to read. We found in its ripped and faded pages a source of courage and faith we never realized existed. The verses we memorized as children suddenly came alive and became as vital to us as food. We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.

— George Barr, Jacob DeShazer, Robert Hite and Chase Nielsen, World War Two veterans reflecting on their experience as downed airmen imprisoned by the Japanese.
Four Came Home (Carroll V. Glines, 1995)

These men endured years in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, yet they had no regrets regarding the outcome for themselves. There was a bigger purpose to their trials. Yes, they found meaning in the fact that they were suffering to defend their freedoms. But more than that, they came to know the God who ordained those freedoms.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… (Gen 50:20)

'We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.'–Doolittle Raiders held as P.O.W.s, 4/42-8/45 – @lthompsonbooks Click To Tweet

One of the four, Jacob DeShazer, was completely transformed by what he read in the Bible during those miserable hours in his cell.

Oh, what a great joy it was to know that I was saved, that God had forgiven me of my sins… Though I was unworthy and sinful, I had “redemption through his blood” (Eph 1:7).

Hunger, starvation, and a freezing cold prison cell no longer had horrors for me. … Even death could hold no threat when I knew that God had saved me.

On his release, He rushed home to get a Bible-college degree. In 1948 he went back to Japan with his new bride, Florence, as Christian missionaries. The Lord had revealed to him in prison that He wanted to give the Japanese people an object lesson on the meaning of forgiveness. Jake was that walking object lesson.

This time I was not going as a bombardier, but I was going as a missionary. How much better it is to go out to conquer evil with the gospel of peace! The strength and power must come from God, but God’s promise is, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jacob DeShazer on his return to Japan

A Tale of Two Veterans

There are a number of remarkable stories from Jake and Florence’s sojourn in Japan. The most famous is that of Fuchida Mitsuo, commander over the air attack on Pearl Harbor.

Do you get discouraged at the idea that we may never get our “normal” back? I know I do, sometimes.

Consider Fuchida’s situation. Celebrated as a hero in Japan during the war, its loss changed everything. He returned from the war to a bombed-out land, where he was fortunate to be able to eke out a living as a subsistence-level farmer.

But the loss of everything he’d once expected from life left him with time to focus on the existential questions.

As I labored on the farm I thought of God, creation, the miracles of the seasons, the growing plants. These things never failed to awe me.

Impressed by DeShazer’s participation in the Doolittle Raid, he picked up a tract Jake had authored. It made him curious about the Bible. When he read one, he found the answers he’d been seeking in Jesus’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Fuchida recognized he’d reached the end of

…a “long, long wandering…. This new element enriched my life—the knowledge of Christ.” (God’s Samurai, Prange, Goldstein and Dillon, 1990)

A few months later, the survivor of the first raid over Tokyo and the man who gave the infamous “Tora-tora-tora” signal that launched the attack on Pearl Harbor were speaking to crowds together, bringing to thousands the message of God’s sacrificial love for all people, and the power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Fuchido Mitsuo and Jacob DeShazer minister together

Jake and Flo ultimately settled in the very city Jake had bombed during the raid. Their thirty-year ministry in Japan bore fruit in twenty-three church plants and in many changed hearts. Jake’s stunning journey from wretched and bitter captive to physical and spiritual freedom was the inspiration for my novel.

In a fascinating parallel, Fuchida revisited Honolulu and handed out Bibles. He told one recipient, “I came with bombs once, but now I come with the Bible. Jesus Christ is the answer.”

Encountering God through Trials

[Fuchida and DeShazer] were once implacable, seemingly irreconcilable enemies. They were bound in cords of hatred and bitterness, willing to die in order to destroy each other. Christ dramatically and completely changed their wills and hearts….

A Higher Honor (Robert Boardman, 1986)

And no wonder they found they could relate to each other, despite their very different backgrounds! God had them both on a similar journey, from a place where they were driven by a fervor of nationalistic pride, through the bitterest of trials, to a personal breakthrough–a deep trust and reliance on their Maker and Savior alone.

While we’re on the timely subject of finding Him in trials, and since we’ve just passed the Passover, we might ask what we can learn from the Exodus story and the plagues ordained for Egypt.

God did not leave His objective in piling those plagues on Egypt a mystery. It is clear, compelling, and still relevant.

Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:7)

You shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Variations on that phrase are repeated nine times during the Exodus plague chapters, 7-19, while God extracts His children from Pharaoh’s brickyards. His goal? To make slaves over into “a people for His own possession” (Ex 19:5). (The Complete Word Study Bible renders this “a peculiar treasure unto Me”—how lovely is that?) Here are a few examples.

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord (Ex 7:5)… That you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God (Ex 8:10)… That you may know that the earth is the Lord’s (Ex 9:29)… That you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Ex 10:2)

Most of these “you shall know” statements are directed at the Egyptians. The Lord instituted the plagues so that the world would confront the truth about Him. And so His children could demonstrate they are His own through loving obedience.

Why I Find These Stories Worth Remembering

Why do I revisit these old war stories? Because it reminds me that no matter how wrenchingly bad things may appear, there’s a bigger picture.

I have latest taken to signing off with “May God save us” because I think we need God now more than at any time since WW2.
Former Phizer VP Dr. Michael Yeadon

This quote came at the end of a lengthy interview published about a week ago, during which the eminent scientist and former Pfizer executive details his concern that “The eugenicists have got hold of the levers of power,” and that, “Your government is lying to you in a way that could lead to your death.”

What Dr. Yeadon has to say is challenging, but definitely worth reading

Especially given how completely he has put his reputation on the line to make such statements.

Whether or not you agree with him, the quote I captured above jumps out at me as highlighting a truth that resonates. I believe there are several reasons WW2 stories continue to speak to something universal in our souls. 

Heroism. Resilience in the face of a common enemy. Liberation from tyranny. Good versus evil. These themes resonate precisely because they reflect deep spiritual truths. There is an epic battle between the forces of good and evil that has been playing out in the heavenlies since the dawn of time. The conflicts we see on earth are mere echoes of that one. There is an enemy of our souls who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to steal, kill and destroy. He will do anything to rob us of our faith, our joy, our peace, our freedom. Our effectiveness for the Lord. I have definitely felt that myself in the past months.

No more! I’m all in on God’s team! By the Lord’s grace, I’ll do all I can to take on the raging forces of darkness and be among the Revelation-level “overcomers.”

Brothers and sisters, it’s time to cling to our Lord for our lives, rather than to things which are quaking under our feet.

Time to cling to our Lord for our lives, rather than to things which are quaking under our feet. – @lthompsonbooks Click To Tweet

If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:236:23), if you’ve never invited Him to save you from sin and death, please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)

The decision that saves you is that simple!

Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.

Free Novelette 

1944: Recruited from an internment camp for Japanese Americans, army linguist Rich Takahashi grapples with a key question. Why should he put his life at risk for an America that robbed him of his future, and his family and his sweetheart of their freedom? What makes an American, an American?

“Goosebumps… Anyone looking for a quick read with full characters and a punch will love this story!!” – Pam, Nevada

Free Novelette: A Matter of Mind and Heart

Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart;

Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.

– President Franklin D. Roosevelt, February 1, 1943

Linda Thompson stepped back from a corporate career that spanned continents to write what she loves—stories of unstoppable faith. Her debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter, is an O.C.W. Cascade Award winner and a finalist for several 2019 awards: Christy and Carol Awards, plus the International Book Award in two categories. Linda writes from the sun-drenched Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as her Chief Military Research Officer, one mostly-grown-up kid, and a small platoon of housecats. When Linda isn’t writing, you’ll find her rollerblading—yes, that does make her a throwback!—enjoying their first grandchild, or taking in a majestic desert moonrise.


  1. Diana Estep says:

    This was great Linda!!!

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