The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Niihau Incident of
Forbidden Island

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi of the Imperial Japanese Navy was is serious trouble. He was flying one of Japan's excellent fighter warplanes, the Mitsubishi A6M2 21 Reisen. We called it the famous ZERO, and the Japanese Navy called it the Navy Type "O" Carrier Fighter Model 52. It was a single-seat fighter with a top speed of 331mph. The plane was heavily armed, two 20mm cannon with 60 rounds per gun, two 7.7mm type 97 machine guns with 500 rounds per gun, and two bombs weighing either 66 lbs or 132 lbs. each. No matter what name it was called, it was one of the best fighter planes in the entire South Pacific. Earlier Airman  1/c Nishikaichi and seven fighter pilots had taken off from the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu for he had just taken part in one of the most dastardly and cowardly attacks in history.

The date is Sunday December 7, 1941, when Japan launched the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The duty of the seven planes was to attack targets on Southeastern Oahu. The U.S. Naval Air Station on Mokapu Peninsula was strafed and bombed. Next was the Bellows Army Airfield, ten miles to the South. Suddenly, out of the clouds dived a flight of nine American Curtiss P-36A Fighter planes. The lightly armed Curtiss P-36 A's looked very rough and tough but unfortunately, they were old and obsolete. The Zeros could out climb, out turn and out run the slower and less maneuverable American fighter planes. So a one

Cecil Owen

sided "Dog fight" began, which ended when all nine Curtiss P-36 A's were shot down. But during the air battle, Airman 1/c Nishikaichi's Zero was hit six times. As the seven Jap fighter planes began their flight back to their aircraft carrier, the Hiryu, Nishikaichi was rapidly losing fuel for one bullet had punctured his gas tank, so his engine began to sputter and cough. The other six planes left him behind so he was all alone.

Before he left the Hiryu all the pilots were briefed in case of an emergency to find a place to land on Niihau Island and stay close to the coastline. An Imperial

Japanese Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi

(Honolulu Advertiser)

Japanese Navy I-Class Submarine would soon pick them up. Since Niihau is uninhabited they would not have any trouble with the natives. Niihau Island is the last island on the Northeastern end of the Hawaiian Island chain. Niihau Island is small, only eighteen miles long and six miles wide. Japanese Intelligence were completely wrong because they had no spies there. It was known throughout all Hawaii as the "Forbidden Island."

In 1864, Hawaiian King Kamehameha the Fifth sold Niihau Island to the Robinson family, who still own it today. No strangers were able to visit or settle there. It has purposely been kept isolated from the advance of modern day conveniences. The Robinson family had hoped to preserve a once prevalent Polynesian culture. As late as December 1941, no radios, no telephones or electric lights were allowed. In case of an emergency, a large bonfire was supposed to be lit on top of 1,281 ft Mt. Paniau. Newspapers from Honolulu were weeks old when they reached the Forbidden Island. Whisky and tobacco were not allowed either.

The tiny village of Puuwai housed most of the 180 natives living on Niihau and most of them worked for the Robinsons. Once a week a small Sampan (boat) docked at Kii Landing. It delivered supplies and

goods not produced on Niihau. Aybner Robinson, the island manager, lived on the big island of Kauai. He usually visited Niihau Island every Monday to see if all was functioning properly. Most of the natives raised sheep and cattle and some had large bee hives to tend. The island was also famous for its highly prized jewelry, which was made from tiny sea shells.

As Nishikaichi flew over Puuwai Village, he could see natives standing in front of a small church. He discovered that Aybner Robinson had prepared for a war better than the military authorities did at Pearl Harbor. Aybner had ordered potential landing sites to be deeply plowed, or cluttered with rock piles. Just as Nishikaichi's engine ran out of gas, he

saw a small clearing in a cow pasture. He came down hard as the plane's wheels clipped a fence. Then the Zero nosed over, with the tail high in the air. It stopped about 75 ft from the house of the Hawaiian cowboy Howard Kaleohano. Howard saw the Jap plane crash as he watched from his front porch. He jumped up and ran over to the dazed pilot still in the cockpit. Villagers seeing the crash from Puuwai, were running towards the pasture. Howard forced open the shattered canopy and pulled the pilot out. Kaleohano quickly disarmed and took away some papers and maps from Nishikaichi. By now the plane was surrounded with most of the villagers. As they tried to question him he became very frightened and to make matters worse, he spoke no English and they spoke no Japanese.

On the island lived three Japanese, Ishimatsu Shintani, Yoshio Harada and his wife Irene. The three were immediately sent for to translate the pilots words. Yoshio Harada was well known for he was the island post master. So he took charge of the interrogation and the pilot finally confessed to him. Although at first he refused to answer, he then admitted that he had just taken part on the attack at Pearl Harbor. He also demanded that his gun and documents be returned. Harada knew that Niihauans believed there were more Japanese than Hawaiian, so he was afraid to tell that information.

Unaware that they were now at war with Japan, Nishikaichi was treated as an honored guest. That very night the elders of the village gave him a "Luau" a big Hawaiian feast. And he even borrowed a guitar and sang a Japanese song. But then by morning, everything changed, for word came that America was at war with Japan. Now, instead of

being an honored guest, Airman 1/c Shigenori Nishikaichi was a prisoner of war. He was kept under guard by Howard Kaleohano, in a small shack in Puuwai village. As Monday morning came, Aybner Robinson was due to arrive around noon, so several Niihau cowboys took the Jap pilot down to Kii landing. They waited all day long in vain, but no sampan arrived. Tuesday and Wednesday were a repeat of the boat. As Thursday came, the elders were worried and started the emergency signal, a large bon-fire on top of Mt. Paniau.

On Kauai island, Aybner Robinson was pacing back and forth. He was frustrated because he could not get back to Niihau. The U.S. Army had ordered all boats to remain in port until further notice. Yoshio Harada and his wife Irene had become quite friendly with the Japanese pilot, so they persuaded the elders to turn him over to them. They lived in a tiny settlement called Kie-Kie and they reasoned this would take the pilot away from Puuwai, as the women and children there were afraid of him.

Interesting enough, the only other person living in Kie Kie was another Japanese descendent, Ishimatsu Shintani. He was born in Japan but had lived in Hawaii for forty years (but  was not an American Citizen). While Harada was a Hawaiian Japanese, as he was born in Hawaii. He had three brothers living in Japan and his wife was also from there so he was torn by two desires, should he be loyal to Japan or the United States.

As soon as they arrived at his house, Harada dismissed the guards. Then he called Shintani to come over for a meeting, which lasted most of the night. Next morning was Friday December 12,  and events began to take shape that would change Niihau Island forever.. Howard Kaleohano was awakened by an excited Shintani who offered him two hundred dollars American money. This was in  exchange for the Japanese pilot's gun and all of his papers. Exasperated Howard ordered the Jap out of his house. Shintani thought that he would be shot without the papers, so he left the house and fled into the jungle.

Meanwhile, Harada and Nishikaichi, the Jap pilot, were making plans to capture the whole island. They went back to the wrecked fighter plane and unbolted two machine guns. Next they set up a machine gun at each end of the village. Then they began to spray the houses with a hail of bullets. But all of the terrified natives escaped through the back windows into the jungle. They proceeded to hide in some caves near the beach. Luckily no one was killed or even injured. By now the two Japanese had become bona fide terrorists. They strutted up and down the street shouting, "if you don't tell us where Howard Kaleohano is everyone will be shot. We must have those military papers he is keeping." They had no way of knowing that he had left the island along with five other natives in a boat.  They were rowing across the channel to Kauai Island for help.

It is now Saturday morning December 13, and the terrorists could not know that it would be their last. Kaahakila Kalima, his wife, and Ben Kanahele and his wife, attempted to return to the village for food but they were captured by Nishikaichi and Harada. Both machine guns were out of ammunition, but Harada had a double barrel shotgun and the Jap pilot had a pistol. "If you do not show us where Kaleohano is right now, you will be shot," he shouted as he took Harada's shotgun and leveled it at Ben, but Ben knocked it down and lunged at him. Nishikaichi grabbed his pistol and shot Ben in the chest, hip and groin. This certainly would have stopped most men, however, Ben Kanahele was a big husky brute of a man, well known for his tremendous strength. He was enraged at being shot, so he picked up the pilot and threw him against a stone wall. Quickly Ben's wife grabbed a rock and hit the pilot on the head, then Ben pulled out a knife and slit his throat. Then Harada took the shotgun and committed "Hara-Kiri" by shooting himself in the stomach.

Ben Kanahele completely recovered from his wounds and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Medal of Merit. So the capture of one of the Hawaiian Islands by the Japanese lasted exactly one whole week.