Joystick in Alaska History


Copyright © 2018 Richard Drebert All Rights Reserved.

With 10 other Zeros and 20 bombers, Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga attacked the military base and fishing village of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. After leaving the town in flames, oil bled from his engine and he realized that his crippled Zero would crash before he landed on the aircraft carrier Ryujo nearby. Koga’s two wingmen and he circled the treeless Island of Akutan, Alaska, searching for a place for him to ditch his plane.

As black smoke fouled the air behind his Zero, Koga descended toward a beautiful green field, perfect for a three-point landing. His comrades were relieved when his rubber tires gently grazed the tops of meadow grasses. In a few hours, they hoped that 19-year-old Koga would board a Japanese rescue submarine hiding off the coast.

Koga’s wingmates checked their 20 mm machine guns, preparing to explode the Zero with incendiary bullets after their friend landed and safely hiked away.

The Japanese Zero was the Empire’s secretly-designed symbol of power, their most deadly and effective airborne weapon. After their attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese pilots controlled the skies over the Pacific. Zeros had no rivals in dogfights, and with their air superiority, Japan captured and held island after island, finally occupying sovereign American territory (Attu Island).

The Japanese forces seemed to be as unstoppable as the rising sun—the emblem emblazoned upon every Zero— until three pilots were handed a joystick that altered the flight path of history.

The meadow grass adorning Koga’s landing site on Akutan Island hid a swamp, and his landing gear gouged two deep slots, throwing his plane tail-over-teakettle. His wingmen’s frantic calls crackled in Koga’s cockpit unanswered.

The two circling pilots finally abandoned Koga, believing that he likely survived the forced landing. They couldn’t bring themselves to explode the Zero with their friend alive inside.

What they didn’t know was that the crash impact had snapped Koga’s neck.

In 1942, Christmas came in July for the United States Air Force. They discovered Koga’s plane, and a U.S. recovery unit buried Koga on Akutan. Military teams extracted the enigmatic Zero from the swamp and shipped it to San Diego where Marines guarded it like a chest of imperial pearls. Mechanics and pilots scrutinized every nut and bolt, then restored the Zero to its former glory. Lieutenant Commander Eddie Sanders flew it 24 times, recording minute performance weaknesses and strengths.

The lighter, 5,500-pound Zero turned on a dime, and typically out-maneuvered the 7,500-pound Allied fighters. Sanders is credited for unlocking the secrets that controlled the outcomes of dogfights between Allied aircraft and Japanese Zeros: Only at higher speeds did the Zero’s banking ability become slower, and it took a great deal of arm strength to control the joystick. The Zero rolled easier and quicker to the left than to the right, and sometimes the engine lost power climbing before a sudden dive…

Armed with this new knowledge of the Zero’s idiosyncrasies, Allied pilots bested the seemingly invincible Japanese pilots time and again. When Zeros maneuvered behind them, the Allied fighters were taught to dive and bank a hard right, dodging the sights of deadly Japanese guns.

The evasive tactic saved countless American and British lives in the Pacific. Overnight, Allied pilots enjoyed a distinct advantage with their better-armored, powerful, higher-speed planes.

A former imperial Japanese naval commander wrote that the discovery of Koga’s Zero in Alaska was “no less serious than the Japanese defeat at Midway, and did much to hasten our [Japan’s] final defeat.”

We dare not forget that God has handed every believer the joystick that alters the future, and ultimately history.

Teaching a Sunday school class for preschoolers may ignite a child’s interest in God’s word—and that adult may be the next Billy Graham.

The bitter academic with whom you discuss theology might ponder your life story and someday commit his life to Jesus—and he may be the next C.S. Lewis.

Befriending that incarcerated person may stretch your patience—but he may also change the lives of offenders by the thousands like Chuck Colson did.

Every day, in incomprehensible ways, we unknowingly impact God’s cosmic plan. Long after we are dust in a box, our lifestyle choices continue to speak.

Hebrews 11:4

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

I Cor. 6:3

Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

Prayer Focus:

Oh God, empower me to encourage others who are destined to impact the future.


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