Reverend "Jake" Has Left Us

By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.


It was 18 April 1942 and Jacob DeShazer was standing on the deck of the USS Hornet getting ready to launch his aircraft. However, “Jake” was not a Navy aircrew member, he was an Army Air Force bombardier and his aircraft was a land-based B-25 bomber. Corporal Jacob DeShazer was a member of one of the sixteen aircrews who would fly their B-25 bombers off the flight deck of the USS Hornet and make the first bombing raid on mainland Japan. The mission was immortalized as "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and went down in history as Jimmy Doolittle’s Raid.

The US had just suffered a major defeat at Pearl Harbor and the nation needed a moral boost. The Japanese believed that the weakened US Navy could not attack their home islands. Even if the Navy got close enough to Japan to launch a strike, the short range aircraft that a carrier used could not perform the mission. Consequently, the idea to use land-based bombers with specially trained crews emerged.

The US task force (carriers Hornet and Enterprise plus escorts) was spotted by a Japanese patrol boat 600 miles from Japan and the decision to launch the B-25s early was made. This meant more fuel was expended getting to the Japanese targets and it left less flying time for the crews to get away safely to China, where they were scheduled to land, since it was impossible for the B-25's to land on an aircraft carrier.

The Doolittle raid was successful. Strategic targets in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities were bombed. The actual physical damage that the B-25s did was minimal, but the public relations coup was heard around the world. The unstoppable Japanese had been attacked in their own back yard. This affront to Japanese pride helped spur Admiral Yamamoto's Midway invasion operation forward (the Japanese thought that the Doolittle raid had been staged from Midway Island), resulting in the Japanese defeat the became the turning point of the war.

The idea was for the aircrews to fly into China and land at predetermined airfields. The low amount of fuel left after the bombing raid forced the crews to ditch short of the safety of the Chinese held runways. Eight crewmembers were captured by the Japanese. Instead of being held as POWs, these uniformed aviators were tried by the Japanese as war criminals and three were executed by firing squad.

Jake DeShazer was tortured, held in solitary confinement for 36 months and hung from a wall while handcuffed. One of the B-25 crewmembers spared execution was starved to death. It was only after the Emperor of Japan found out about the horrible treatment of the Doolittle Raiders that their conditions improved. This was because the Emperor was embarrassed by public knowledge of the torture, not because he cared about the airmen.

The positive public relations that the US got from the bombing raid has always been played up. The death and destruction that the Japanese inflicted on the Chinese was not made public until years after the war. It is estimated the 250,000 Chinese were murdered by the Japanese military as reprisal for helping the American flyers. A B-25 would crash land in a rice field miles from the nearest village. The villagers knew nothing about the Americans, but when the Japanese soldiers arrived, they killed the entire village population.

It is estimated that 5,900,000 civilians (non-combatants) died at the hands of the Japanese during the war. A prison guard gave Corporal DeShazer a bible and in reading it, Jake re-found his faith. His family was Free Methodists. One of the major issues that caused the Free Methodist to break from the Methodist Church was slavery in the US. Jake was experiencing forced imprisonment.

A month after being released from the Japanese prison camp, Jake was back in the US attending college. He returned to Yokohama, Japan in 1948 with his wife and first child as missionaries of the Free Methodist Church. He was able to turn his hate for a society of vicious and violent people into a desire to help them.

Reverend Jake spent most of his adult working life after WW II in Japan. He is credited with founding 23 churches in Japan. Rev. Jake befriended Mitsuo Fuchida, who was the commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the course of their friendship, Fuchida was converted to Christianity. After the Emperor of Japan revealed that he was not a divine being who should be worshiped as a God, some Japanese turned to Christianity. Pastor Jake helped bring many Japanese to his church.

There is a reunion every year for the surviving Doolittle Raiders and it will be in Dallas this summer. Sadly, Rev. Jake will not be attending. He died on 15 March 2008; he was 95 years old. He had been the oldest surviving aircrew member of that famous bombing raid. I would suggest that his life’s work after the war was more important to him than that one bombing mission over Japan. We buried another veteran today.




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Copyright 2008 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.

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