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An inspirational story about a Japanese pilot who, during the attack on Pearl Harbor, couldn’t release a bomb on the Hawaiian temple has circulated for decades among Latter-day Saints, but is it true?
According to Lance D. Chase, who was a BYU-H professor and did research on the subject, the story goes like this. “A Japanese pilot returning from Pearl Harbor with a bomb still undelivered spotted the Hawaii Temple. Determined to destroy the building, a target of opportunity, before it became necessary to jettison his bomb harmlessly into the nearby sea, he dived on the temple. His bomb would not release.
“He then decided to dive again and strafe, but his guns would not fire. It is unclear whether he made three or more passes, but on what may have been a third pass his controls failed to work even as he contemplated a suicide dive. Fearful of expending his fuel before reaching his ship, he headed out to sea now. He worked his bomb release mechanism and the bomb fell now. His guns responded. Feeling disgraced but encouraged by his now properly functioning plane, he decided to try a last strafing run at the building. A final time his controls refused to respond, and he was forced to continue back to his ship.”
This information is from the journal of Robert Thomas Stout, who had learned of it when tracting as a missionary. Stout reported that on Sept. 9, 1957, he had been in Matsumoto City and met a middle-aged man who had been a Japanese pilot in the Pearl Harbor attack. As Stout was talking to him about the Church, he showed him a post card aerial view of the Hawaiian temple. When the pilot saw this picture, he “turned pale and was shocked” and then told his story. He said he had tried to bomb that temple the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack, but his controls froze and the bomb would not release.
On his last attempt he felt “a strange power protected that white building with its blue pools.” He felt a powerful influence and felt he had angered God. He did not even look back so great was his fear. The elders told him about the temple “to which the man replied, ‘it has giant magic…You two missionaries make me feel those feelings again. You must leave me again and not torment my mind and heart.’”
Robert Stout returned to Japan more than 50 times, including once as a mission president from 1977-80. In 1983 Stout and his wife, Kay, visited the Hawaii Temple on their 25th wedding anniversary and told the story to temple President Bob Finlayson. Later Stout sent his journal to the Hawaii Temple for their archives.
The temple president had already heard the story from one of his own temple workers, Robert Kahawaii, who said he witnessed the event, though he told it with some variation.
Kahawaii said his wife locked him out of their house that night of Dec. 7, 1941 and so he slept outside under a coconut tree and that’s why he had seen the pilot. When he awoke he saw a plane diving at the temple. Kahawaii’s account was not recorded until some 34 years after the attack in 1976, and those who have seen the document says it has problems.
How can you verify this story? Some have tried to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of these accounts. Stout provides a lead on the pilot’s name—that it was one of the variants of Ohara, Ogawa and Okawa and he described the house as a kind of duplex with the name Nishimoto on the front—but thought the name was that of the other party in the house.
Both Kahawaii and Stout were absolutely convinced of the truthfulness of their accounts of the attempted attack.
Ken Baldridge and Lance Chase both wrote papers on the incident, examining ideas like the military probability of this happening. More recently Alf Pratte gave a paper at the Mormon Pacific Historical Society in 2005 about the incident. Pratte added some critical information.
Pratte said Stout’s mission president Paul Andrus knew of the story and had believed him. “[Andrus] fervently believed the attack occurred and he has so believed since he read Stout’s journal in 1983.” Andrus also believed the acoount told by Kahawaii who, “in later years, was saddened that something he believed in and had held so privately was not taken seriously.” Apparently, additional witnesses in Laie had been identified.
We are aware that some members treasure this tradition while others cast the story into the category of legend. So here is another piece of the puzzle from another convert of Robert Stout. Read about Jericho Road’s visit to Japan.
Dear Brother Albright,
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. In observance of this anniversary I humbly offer the experience I had in Hiroshima while touring Japan in February 2007 with my bandmates from Jericho Road JerichoRoadMusic.com.
We toured all over Japan for 10 days, visiting Okinawa, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, and ending in Sendai. In each city we were hosted by a mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Hiroshima, we were privileged to be hosted by the very warm and accommodating President Yafuso.
Before our concert in Hiroshima, President Yafuso and Nobuaki Irie took us to see the beautiful Miyajima Island with the Itsukushima shrine, complete with wild sacred deer who were quite friendly.
After touring around the island for awhile and taking some amazing photos (and petting the deer), we had some time to tour the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park – the area devastated by the atomic bomb. We learned that the dome was directly underneath where the bomb exploded – chosen as the target because of the easy to identify “T” the streets made right next to the Genbaku Dome.
After visiting this touching memorial and seeing the heartbreaking pictures and pleas from the Japanese citizens for “No Moer (More) Hiroshima,” we had a chance to visit with President Yafuso where he solemnly told us about his conversion story in Japanese (translated by Brother Irie).
President Yafuso’s father had been killed by the Americans in World War II. As a young boy growing up on the island of Okinawa, he told his mom not to cry, assuring her that he would grow up to become a general and exact revenge on the Americans for killing his father. With this mindset he tried to avoid the American LDS missionaries whenever he would see them in the streets. On one particular day, he crossed the street back and forth several times to try to avoid the missionaries, who seemed to cross the street exactly every time President Yafuso did. He finally met with the missionaries and became converted as a pre-teen. President Yafuso was baptized on January 10, 1959.
The missionary who taught President Yafuso the gospel, Elder Robert Thomas Stout, told him of another investigator they taught some months prior who had actually been involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor. While teaching this man, a Brother Okawa, about the role that temples play in our church they showed him a picture of the then-closest temple to Japan – the Laie Hawaii temple. When they showed him the picture his face went white as he explained to them that he recognized the building.
As a bomber in the attack on Pearl Harbor, he had a left-over bomb on his plane at the end of the attack and was supposed to find a building to destroy. As the Laie Hawaii temple was on his flight path, he saw the large temple and decided to drop his bomb on it. He flew over the temple and attempted to drop his bomb, but it wouldn’t drop. Surprised, he flew a second time over the temple and again tried to drop the bomb, but it wouldn’t drop. Abandoning that idea, he decided to fly back over one more time and attack the temple with his machine guns, but they wouldn’t shoot. Utterly confused, he decided to fly back to his aircraft carrier and, while flying over the ocean, tried dropping his bomb one more time – and it dropped just like it was supposed to.
I will never forget the solemnity with which President Yafuso told us this story, and the spirit that I felt as I heard his words. I can hear them and see him like it was yesterday.
I know that God is in control of His church, and as the Prophet Joseph Smith declared: ”No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. God’s hand is in this work, and His purposes will not be frustrated.
Shared with permission from Bret’s blog at: https://bretryce.blogspot.com/ and permission of Akira Yafuso via an interpreter.