Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hawaiian Island Seized Following Pearl Harbor Attack

One of the lesser known incidents of World War II occurred during the week of the Pearl Harbor attack on Sunday, December 7, 1941.
In their briefing before they attacked the American naval base, Japanese pilots were told to head for the westernmost Hawaiian Island, Niihau, if they had airplane trouble. A submarine assigned to rescue duty would pick them up.
Twenty-two year old Zero fighter pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi flew escort of a flight of bombers during the attack. During an aerial dogfight with a flight of obsolete Curtiss P-36A fighters, Nishikaichi’s gas tank was punctured. He wouldn’t make it make to his carrier, the Hiryu. Niihau lay 130 miles to the west. Along with another damaged Zero, he headed for the island.

When they reached the eighteen-mile-long, six-mile-wide island, they discovered Japanese intelligence was wrong. The island of Niihau, owned by the Robinson family since 1864, was home to 136 residents, mostly native Hawaiians whose primary language was Hawaiian.
Unsure what to do, they turned away. The other pilot suddenly dove into the sea. Nishikaichi headed back to the island and made a rough landing in a pasture near a lone house. The plane’s wheel hit a fence, causing the plane to nose in. His safety harness broke free and Nishikaichi slammed into the instrument panel.
The home’s occupant, Howard Kaleohano, pulled the pilot out of his plane, along with his gun and official-looking papers. He took him to his house, where his wife served him breakfast. Since Nishikaichi spoke limited English, the Kaleohanos summoned 60-year-old Ishimatsu Shintani, who was born in Japan but had lived in Hawaii for over forty years.
Shintani was reluctant to get involved. After a brief conversation with the pilot, he looked shocked and left without telling the Kaleohanos what was said.
Next they brought Yoshio and Irene Harada, Japanese Americans whom the Niihauans considered more Japanese than Hawaiian. Nishikaichi informed them of the attack on Pearl, but the Haradas did not relay that crucial information to their neighbors.
The rescue sub never came; it had been ordered to proceed toward Oahu in the early afternoon.
Niihau had no electricity or telephones. Unaware of the attack, the islanders held a luau for the pilot. That night, the islanders heard a report of the attack on a battery-operated radio.
The next morning, they took Nishikaichi to the dock where Aylmer Robinson was expected to arrive for his weekly visit. Unknown to them, in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, all boat traffic had been banned in the channel between Niihau and Kauai, where Robinson lived. Robinson didn’t come.
While they waited, Nishikaichi and Harada spoke privately. The pilot told Harada that Japan would surely win the war if Pearl’s lack of defense was any indication. He lured Harada into treason.

A stone column was erected in Shigenori Nishikaichi’s honor in his hometown in Japan. He died in battle over Oahu, claims the inscription. “His meritorious deed will live forever.”

By Thursday, they’d gotten Shintani involved. They sent him to the home of Howard Kaleohano to demand the return of Nishikaichi’s documents, which the pilot had been told should not fall into American possession. Kaleohano refused to return them.
Harada stole a pistol and a shotgun from the Robinson’s unused ranch house. He and the pilot overpowered the Niihauan guard assigned to watch Nishikaichi while Irene Harada played a phonograph record to drown any sounds of struggle.
Harada and Nishikaichi went to Kaleohano’s house for the papers. When they didn’t find him at home, they went to the crashed plane, apparently to try to use its radio. They forced the 16-year-old guarding the plane to accompany them back to Kaleohano’s house. This time they found him there. Harada fired at him, but missed. Kaleohano escaped, and warned the islanders before heading to the northern tip of the island to build a signal fire.
The overpowered guard escaped from the warehouse he’d been locked in, and added his own warning. The Niihauans scattered to remote parts of the island.
That night, Kaleohano and five other men rowed against the wind on a ten-hour journey to Kauai. With Kaleohano’s report, Aylmer Robinson was finally allowed to mount a rescue mission. It would arrive too late.
Meanwhile, Nishikaichi and Harada captured Kaahakila Kalima, whom Harada sent to inform his wife that he would not be returning home that night. Nishikaichi and Harada walked through the deserted village, firing their weapons and yelling for Kaleohano.
After delivering the message, Kalima had joined his wife and Ben and Ella Kanahele on the beach. When the men went back to the village looking for food, they were captured by the enemy duo. After searching Kaleohano’s house for Nishikaichi’s papers to no avail, they burned the house down. They forced Ben Kanahele, a powerful, six-foot, forty-nine-year-old, to find Kaleohano. Ben knew Howard had gone to Kauai, but pretended to search.
Nishikaichi threatened to murder all the islanders if Kaleohano wasn’t found. Ben demanded in Hawaiian that Harada take away Nishikaichi’s pistol. Harada refused, but asked the pilot for the shotgun.
By this time, Friday night, Nishikaichi was exhausted. As he handed the shotgun to Harada, Ben lunged for him. Nishikaichi managed to pull his pistol from his boot and shot Ben in the chest, groin, and hip. Undaunted, Ben grabbed him and threw him against a stone wall. Ella bashed his head with a rock. Ben then slit Nishikaichi’s throat with a knife.
Harada rammed the shotgun into his mouth and killed himself. The hostile takeover ended.
Ben Kanahehe recovered from his wounds and received the Medal of Merit and the Purple Heart. His wife received no official recognition. Ishimatsu Shintani spent the war years interned on the mainland. Irene Harada was imprisoned until late 1944.
Benehakaka (Ben) Kanahele holds his Medal of Merit and Purple Heart.
The actions of the three Japanese Hawaiians, according to a Navy report in January, 1942, indicated “the likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan.” There’s a good chance the Niihau incident helped persuade the government to intern over 100,000 people with Japanese ancestry away from the West Coast.

For further reading:

The Niihau Incident: The True Story of the Japanese Fighter Pilot Who, After the Pearl Harbor Attack, Crash-Landed on the Hawaiian Island of Niihau and Terrorized the Residents  by Allan Beekman

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ode to the Dachshund

Who can resist a dachshund?

Nationalistic feelings ran high during World War II. A young girl walking her Dachshund was heckled for having a German dog. She protested. Her dog had been born in America.
The small dog with the distinctive long body and short legs traces its beginning to the 1600s in Germany. Bred for hunting burrowing animals, primarily the badger, the Dachshund's low-slung body enables it to access tunnels and dens with ease. Their name translates as badger dog (dachs-badgers; hund-dog).
In the years before the war, Dachshunds had moved to sixth place among registered dogs in the United States. The war did bring them some ill repute, but Dachshunds maintained their fans. Their popularity continues to grow, and they now enjoy starring in Dachshund Derbies during Octoberfest celebrations. Milwaukee's German Fest offered a Dachshund Derby nine years ago with the idea it would be a one-time event. It proved to be a hit and continued, with 93 dogs participating this year.

The local Harley Davidson dealer staged their first annual derby last weekend. Step inside the dealership, and the immediate impression is there are as many dogs as motorcycles. Despite their small size, the dogs have a loud bark, creating a clamor as they greeted each other.
             The highlight of the day was the Derby. Ever see a bunch of house pets suddenly become involved in a foot race? With a family member waiting for them at the finish line, some dogs ran straight to waiting arms. Others got distracted by intriguing scents, slipped through the barricade to explore, or sat down.

They're off! At least, some are off. Others aren't so sure about this.

             The fun included a costume contest. My personal favorite, but not the winner, was the little Harley dude in his leather cap and jacket. He was too fond of the outfit, and repeatedly shook himself, trying to get free.
 Dachshunds come in short,  smooth coats, long silky coats, and a wiry coats. Colors range from the familiar red to black and tan to cream and more. Some are patterned in dapple, sable, or piebald. Those with different colored eyes are prone to visual and hearing problems.
They are not recommended for families with young children because they lack much patience for being mishandled. They do love to play and enjoy a game of catch. Care must be taken since the Dachshund's long body makes him prone to disc-related injuries.
All photos by Jim Wangard
          When the main character in my first manuscript suddenly found himself in dire straits, I gave him a little lost Dachshund puppy to be his companion in a trek across enemy territory. 
 Look at them. Could you resist?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Writing a Family Story to Be Proud Of

A batch of forgotten letters was found in my grandmother’s house. Written in 1947 and 1948, they came from distant cousins in Germany. My grandparents and other relatives had been sending them care packages. My great-great-grandfather immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1870s, as did two brothers. A fourth brother remained in Germany, and these letters came from his grandchildren.

When I decided to begin writing in 2008, the family in the letters became the perfect subject around which to craft a story. Research revealed life in Nazi Germany as increasingly grim before the war even started. The letters provide a fascinating glimpse of life in war torn Germany, but nothing about the war years. How had the family coped? I turned to the internet and searched on the family’s factory name. I found it all right, in a list of German companies that used slave labor. I wanted my family to be the good guys, but that hope grew shaky.

Contact had ceased in 1948 after the German currency reform, and with their silence in the letters, many questions couldn’t be answered. Why had they refrained from any mention of their thoughts and activities during Hitler’s regime? Desire to forget? Shame of the vanquished? Concern the American family wouldn’t help if they knew the truth?

Circumstances of their postwar life offer a few facts. The family consisted of a brother, his wife, and three young children, and a sister and her husband, and their “old gray mother,” who turned 66 in 1947. Another brother languished as a prisoner of war in Russia, not returning home until 1949, I learned from the German department for the notification of next of kin. The sister and her bridegroom had lived in Canada for five years, returning to Germany in 1937 because she was homesick. They were bombed out of their homes and lived in their former offices, temporarily fixed up as a residence. Before the war, they employed about one hundred men, but in 1947, had fewer than forty-five, with no coal, electricity, or raw materials to work with.

My imagination took over. The family, not the newlyweds, came to Wisconsin. Because a critiquer scorned someone returning to Hitler’s Germany due to homesickness, I gave them a more compelling reason when I rewrote the story. The grandfather had died and the father had to return to take over the factory, much to the daughters’ dismay, who loved their new life in America.

They did not support Hitler. Because their factory had to produce armaments and meet quotas imposed on them, they had no choice in accepting Eastern European forced laborers, Russian POWs, and Italian military internees.

The older daughter (my main character) took pride in committing acts of passive resistance. Now a war widow, she hid a downed American airman, an act punishable by execution. When they were betrayed, a dangerous escape from Germany ensued.

Maybe the family did support Hitler. Many did before realizing his true colors. My version probably doesn’t come close to the truth, especially concerning the daughter. The real daughter was twelve years old in 1947. No matter. This is fiction, and this is a family I can be proud of.