First-Hand:My Brush With History


Submitted by Helmut Schrank

The recent tragedy of 9/11/2001 has reminded many of another infamous date, Dec 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked and thousands of Americans were killed, to cause the U S. entry into World War 2.

Two men that had a part in that "day of infamy" were the young U. S. Army radar operator who detected the incoming Japanese aircraft a half hour before the bombs dropped on our Navy ships, and the Japanese squadron commander who gave the radio message "Tora, Tora, Tora" to begin the tragic bombing attack. I personally met these two men and the rest of this story is to relate how these meetings took place.

The radar that detected the attacking squadron of over 300 planes was built for the U.S. Army Signal Corps by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Baltimore, where T worked for 32 years. The radar was designated the SCR-270, and was one of the earliest to be designed when radar technology was still in its infancy and shrouded in secrecy. Several of these SCR-270 equipments had been installed on the Hawaiian islands, with one on Oahu near Pearl Harbor in the Honolulu area.

Joseph Lockhart was on duty Sunday morning on Dec 7, 1941. As he was getting ready to shut down the radar for the rest of the day, he noticed a larger "blip" (target) on the primitive cathode-ray indicator. A strong echo was showing up from about 139 miles north of the island shore. He called his superior officer to report this unusual target, but the officer told him it was probably some of our aircraft coming to Honolulu from the US. mainland. So Joe proceeded to shut the radar down. A half hour later the bombs began to fall on our unsuspecting Navy fleet.

Fifty years later there was an anniversary meeting of "Pearl Harbor Day at Westinghouse in Baltimore." Joseph Lockhart was one of the three speakers at that meeting which I had the privilege of attending. The other speakers were from the Signal Corp and from Westinghouse upper management. I have long since forgotten what the speakers said, but I still remember most of Joe Lockhart's account of his experience. While it is a shame that his report was ignored, it must be remembered that radar at that time was new-fangled stuff: and not many people in the armed services had reason to have confidence in its performance. Anyhow, that was how I heard and met Joe Lockhart.

The squadron commander of the Japanese bombing raid was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida. His aircraft led the squadron and was among the first to drop bombs. He was later promoted to lead a number of warships some of which were sunk, but he survived and was rescued. Near the end of the Pacific War, he was a high ranking admiral of the imperial Japanese navy. After the US raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki he was one of about a dozen high-ranking military men assigned by the Emperor to inspect the damage done by the U.S. atom bombs. The inspection team reported what they found to the Emperor, who then decided to surrender, ending the Pacific War.

Fuchida was devastated by this decision. He was a career Navy warrior and thought Japan should "fight to the finish." He resigned from the Navy and returned to civilian life. By then, all the other members of the inspection team died of radiation poisoning, but for some strange reason he survived. Nevertheless he was not happy and did a lot of soul searching. One day he received a leaflet being handed out on the street by a member of the Pocket Testament League (an American evangelical organization like the Gideons). He eventually read the message of that tract and decided to convert to Christianity. After writing to the P.T.L., he was invited to visit the US. where he spoke of his life story and conversion at various meetings. One such meeting took place in Baltimore in the 1950's, which a dear friend (Martin Bankert) invited me to attend. That is where I personally met Mitsuo Fuchida, a new brother in Christ, transformed by the power of God through the Gospel message on a small but effective piece of paper. As the saying goes, "truth is stranger than fiction".