Doolittle Raider took the Gospel to Japan

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The Rev. Jacob Daniel DeShazer, one of the participants in the historic Doolittle Raid on Japan during World War II, died in his sleep March 15 at his home in Salem, Ore. He was 95.

After spending 40 months as a prisoner of war after the raid, DeShazer returned to Japan intent on forgiving his former captors and converting them to Christianity. During 30 years as a missionary, he helped start 23 churches in Japan.

DeShazer was born Nov. 15, 1912, to an Oregon wheat-farming family. He joined the Army Air Corps at 27, two years before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. A month after the attack, he volunteered for a secret mission. Then a corporal, he was the bombardier aboard the “Bat out of Hell,” one of 16 bombers under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle that launched a surprise attack on Tokyo and other Japanese targets on April 18, 1942.


DeShazer’s plane dropped bombs on an oil refinery in Nagoya, Japan, before heading toward China. But when the fuel ran out, the crew bailed. DeShazer was captured and sentenced to life in prison in Japanese-occupied China.

After months of torture and hunger, a prison guard handed DeShazer a Bible. Even though he’d been raised in a Christian home, DeShazer said, he had not embraced the faith until he read that prison Bible. He vowed that if he were ever freed, he would share what he had learned with the Japanese.

In August 1945, 10 days after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, DeShazer’s captors freed him. Back in the Northwest, he attended Seattle Pacific College, now Seattle Pacific University, a Christian school.

He met Florence Matheny there and the two married in 1946. After he graduated in 1948, the couple moved to Japan as Free Methodist missionaries. He returned for a master’s of divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky before moving to Japan again to evangelize and help establish churches throughout the country. DeShazer and his wife retired in 1977, settling in Oregon.

In addition to his wife of 61 years, DeShazer is survived by five children; 10 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a sister.

Many of his experiences were recounted in a 1950 biography, “The Amazing Story of Sgt. Jacob DeShazer” by C. Hoyt Watson, first published by Light and Life Press.


Eleven of the Doolittle Raiders are still alive.