Forgotten history of a forbidden island
Pearl Harbor, Ni'ihau, 9066, Korematsu
You’ve just taken part in an early morning assault guaranteeing a full on war whose outcomes are unknown. In doing so your plane has taken tremendous damage and you’re going to have to land thousands of miles from home.
This was the situation Imperial Japanese naval aviator Shigenori Nishikaichi found himself in December 7th, 1941. The imperial navy had given him instructions for just this situation, head west to the westernmost Hawaiian island, Ni’ihau. A submarine would be on standby with a contingent for that
Ni’ihau sits 17 miles off the west coast of Kauai. It is inaccessible to anyone but the native Hawaiians who have grown up there without express permission of the Robinson family who purchased this island from King Kamehameha V. It is sparsely populated now, even more so in 1941.
Well Nishikaichi after some drama is needing to find a place to land. In doing so he attracts the attention of the few residents on the island. It is by now 1PM on Ni’ihau, and a descending single propeller Mitsubishi zero is about to make a landing. Nishikaichi starts his landing, but, somewhere in the process of landing he catches a wire in his landing gear and basically the plane plants it’s nose in the ground knocking him unconscious.
This is all witnessed by one Howard Kaleohano. Kaleohano ends up with a much larger role in the ensuing events, but, he begins by pulling the unconscious pilot from the wreckage. Confiscating a Nambu 8mm pistol and some of the planning documents in the process. Something to keep in mind about Kaleohano, he had spent a large part of his life on the big island of Hawaii and was fluent in Hawaiian and English.
Shigenori Nishikaichi came to, eventually, he had some English proficiency and was at first going through all the things you’d expect a pilot who probably suffered a pretty severe concussion would go through. Also there were other Ni’ihau Hawaiians around who had seen his plane flying around.
Now, somewhere in all of this, between when the Ni’ihauan Hawaiians send for Japanese speakers on their island and the pilot being cooperative, this particular Japanese pilot’s story takes a turn. It’s here that I want to take a brief moment to reflect on some information that would have become apparent : the submarine was not there. Unbeknownst to Nishikaichi at this moment (it would become apparent later) was that it was never coming. The Imperial Navy sent this submarine different orders, and it would be heading back to safer water at the conclusion of Pearl Harbor operations.
Now, however he did not know. And Nishikaichi began to try to figure out how survive, evade, resist, and escape (SERE).