FROM FEAR TO FORGIVENESS
By Dr. Joe H. Morgan (Pearl Harbor Survivor)
Daniel 9:9 (KJV), “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;”
Matthew 6:15 (KJV), “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Although the attack only lasted two hours, I remained at my gun post for the rest of the day and all night expecting the Japanese to return. We even heard a rumor that a Japanese troop landing was expected on the south shore of Oahu. Some of our own planes from the aircraft carrier tried to land later in the day. Thinking they were the enemy, we shot down five of the six planes. Three of the six pilots were killed.
Yet in middle of all this, nothing was stronger that day than the feeling that I was out of God’s will. You see, ever since I was six years old, I had received certain indications that God was calling me to be a preacher. But, like Jonah in the Bible, I joined the Navy instead! Also, like Jonah, who got down on his knees in the belly of that big "fish," I prayed that night, "Oh, Lord, get me through the war alive and I’ll be a preacher." God took me seriously. Three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I was transferred to the Island of Maui where I spent the rest of the war without seeing any more combat.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed my life greatly in another way. For a couple of months before the attack I had been having a causal relationship with a local girl. We enjoyed going to the beach, having lunches together, visiting her and her family in their home, enjoying each other’s company. Around the first of December, we decided to stop seeing each other. After all, I was engaged to a girl back in Texas, and the local girl was engaged to a local fellow!
Two weeks after the attack, when I was finally allowed to call off the base, I phoned her at her office and said, "I’m alive!" and I asked her if we could have lunch together. At that lunch we discovered that we meant more to each other than we had earlier realized. We started dating again and broke off our engagements with our fiancés. On March 7, 1942, exactly three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Blanche Fernandes and I were married. The very next day I got orders to Maui!
While we were on Maui, some Southern Baptist missionaries started a small mission in Kahului. Blanche saw a little ad in the paper, so we started attending that mission, where I made a public commitment to enter the ministry when my time in the Navy was finished.
Up until this time I hated school. I was a high school dropout. After I had made this commitment, my attitude changed. I knew I needed to get some more education. I had earned my high school diploma while in the Navy. In 1946, I entered college, majoring in the subject that gave me the most trouble in high school: History! I went on to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and then to my first full time pastorate right back on the island of Maui! I became the pastor of the Wailuku Baptist Church in August, 1954. In 1958, he returned to the Navy as a chaplain and served for 10 years, including two tours in Vietnam. He later became pastor of First Baptist Church in Waimanalo before retiring because of health problems.
About the middle of my four years as pastor at Wailuku, the man who led the air attack on Pearl Harbor came to Maui! Mitsuo Fuchida was the commander of the naval air forces that attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After the war, he was disillusioned and depressed until he read a story about Christian missionary named Jacob DeShazer who had been a prisoner of war for 40 months in Japan. He was so disturbed by the missionary’s story and the concept of forgiveness that he went out and bought a Bible. After reading the Bible daily he came upon the verse (Luke 23:34) where Jesus says from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He later wrote, "It was then I met Jesus and realized He died for my sins on the cross."
Someone had invited Captain Fuchida to Maui to tell his story. I had mixed feelings about going to hear him. I still harbored some of these feelings of hatred from the war. How should I, as a Christian, react to this man who tried to kill me fifteen years before... even if he had become a Christian? Should I shake his hand or shoot him? I decided to go and hear his story anyway.
After he finished, I went up to him and introduced myself as a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack. He bowed politely and said in Japanese, "Gomenasai." (I’m sorry.) Then he said in English, "Please forgive me." He reached out to shake my hand. As our hands touched, all the hatred and animosity toward this man and his country was gone! God had replaced those feelings with forgiveness!
We shook hands, not as former enemies, but as brothers in Christ. We both had received God’s mercy and forgiveness. I discovered that day the secret to world peace. And I firmly believe I survived Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Vietnam War, three open-heart surgeries, and an inoperable heart attack, just so I could share this story with you.
Joe and his wife moved into his son Robert and his wife Betty's house in May of 1999 when their health no longer permitted them to live on their own. Robert said, when Mom’s congestive heart failure got worse, she wasn’t able to go to the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center with Dad. He stayed home to encourage her but I could tell he was wanting to go to the Memorial to tell his story of "Fear and Forgiveness" to the visitors. He couldn’t go by himself because the doctor no longer allowed him to drive. And Dad’s severe short memory problems require that someone be with him at all times.
Robert volunteered to take him down on Thursdays. At first I just stood at the side and let him tell his story to the gathered crowd. But he noticed his dad struggled with the telling. He would leave out some key parts. Or he would start repeating himself. So the next time Robert suggested to his dad to let Robert interview him. It worked out so well, they continued to do it that way ever since.
Robert went on to say, "Standing beside Dad facing the crowd, I can’t help but notice their emotional response to his story. Even before his story is half over, many in the crowd are wiping away tears. I believe with all my heart that God is using his story to soften hearts hardened by unforgiveness and hatred. I find myself getting a lump in the throat when manly men weep and hug Dad around the neck, especially the older men who have been bitter toward the Japanese for years."
Robert continued, "One young man recently came up to me and said, 'My fiancé died in the Twin Tower collapse on September 11th. We were supposed to be married this week and come here to Hawaii for our honeymoon. Instead I’m here by myself this week. Your Dad’s story was very helpful. I believe the healing has begun inside me.'"
"My presence at the Memorial has an effect, too. People are deeply touched by seeing how I lovingly prompt Dad through his story of survival. They often come up to shake my hand and say, 'We know what you are doing. It’s wonderful to see a son help his father that way.'"
Dad no longer has a church of his own to preach at every Sunday. And though I am also an ordained minister, neither do I. But when visitors ask what church we preach at, I say, "The Arizona Memorial Community Church." Though said with a smile, I’m very serious. Dad and I are missionaries to the visitors who come to Pearl Harbor. Our mission: to spread the message of forgiveness.
When Mom passed away in August, 2001, we skipped a few weeks but then we began to go again to tell the story. We include the story of my parents' romance before and after the Attack. The ladies in the audience appreciate hearing about more than shooting and submarines. We honor the memory of Mom by sharing how the love of two people was strengthened by the Pearl Harbor Attack. On March 7th, 2002, we were at the Visitors Center as usual telling the story. I had the joy of sharing how it would have been the 60th anniversary of my parents' wedding if Mom had lived. After the talk, Dad and I took flower leis and laid them on her grave.
Post Script: Dr. Joe Morgan was promoted home to glory to live forever with his Saviour on Oct. 25, 2002. He died while at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, following a two-week treatment for cellulitis. He was 80.