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Pearl Harbor survivor Joe Morgan dies; healed of hatred for the Japanese

HONOLULU, Hawaii (BP)–Joe Morgan, a Baptist minister who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and was known for telling the story of how God healed his hatred of the Japanese, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 25 at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, following a two-week treatment for cellulitis. He was 80.

During retirement, Morgan volunteered weekly for more than 12 years at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Every Thursday until two weeks before his death, Morgan told the story of how God had released him from any bitterness and anger he had felt for the Japanese after the attack.

Morgan was on duty on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when he heard planes approaching. Once he realized the base was under attack from Japanese forces, he grabbed a machine gun mounted to a plane in a nearby hangar and began firing at enemy aircraft.

While firing, he was gripped by anger at the attackers. Although he did not suffer physical wounds from the battle, he was scarred by a deep hatred for the Japanese people.

The Navy veteran, in his talks at the Pearl Harbor memorial, told of later meeting the Japanese naval commander who had led the attack. The commander had become a Christian after meeting a former prisoner of war who had returned to post-war Japan as a missionary. When he met the Japanese commander, God changed Morgan’s heart.

“The anger, hatred and animosity toward this man and his country were gone,” Morgan said. “It was not how great of a Christian I was, but how great of a God I had.

“We shook hands not as former enemies but as brothers in Christ,” Morgan said at the close of every presentation on the memorial. “We both had received God’s mercy and forgiveness. I believe what we experienced is the answer to bringing peace to the world today.”

After the war, Morgan enrolled at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he earned a history degree. He then earned a divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Morgan returned to Hawaii to pastor Wailuku Baptist Church in Maui in 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.

Morgan’s son Robert is also a minister and said his father’s story of forgiveness was instrumental in the lives of many people who heard it at the memorial.

“It is a very healing story,” he said in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin Oct. 29. “At the memorial, people come and get so angry. His story helps them work through it all the way to the end. There are grown men who have harbored bitterness for a long time. Somehow he reaches them.

“After Sept. 11, we tried to make the connection with the [Pearl Harbor] attack,” Morgan said. “We told them, ‘We know you feel some of the terrorists are hopeless, but we need to pray for them. Hearts can be changed and enemies can become friends.'”

As Joe Morgan got older and his memory faded, his son would stand with him at the memorial and lead him in an interview format to tell his story.

“As his health and memory got worse and worse, I hesitated to continue taking him to the Arizona Memorial. But he wanted to go so badly,” Robert Morgan told Baptist Press. “So the next time we went, I prayed for guidance and assistance from the Holy Spirit. I told the hundreds gathered on the patio to hear him that his memory was getting worse and worse. I said that I may have to tell a good portion of the story for him, but he really wanted to be there to tell them and we would do our best to get the story out completely and correctly.

“As I looked around, many of the crowd had already begun to weep. I knew then we were going to do just fine.

“He gave his last two talks two days before being admitted to the hospital for the last time. They were two of the best presentations we’ve ever made.”

Robert Morgan and his wife, Betty, have produced a video and brochure of Joe Morgan’s story, “From Fear to Forgiveness,” which can be obtained by writing to them at 1212 Nuuanu Ave., Suite 4008 Honolulu, HI 96817. They have also developed a website at www.joemorgan.org.

Morgan, a native of Tyler, Texas, was preceded in death by his wife, Blanche, and is survived by his sons Harry and Robert, daughter Clarissa Trammell, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were at Olivet Baptist Church in Honolulu Oct. 26.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: NO HARBOR FOR HATRED.

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  • Erin Curry