The Ekahi Ohana
Vol.2 Issue 2 February 2000
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Aloha Mark Warden:
As I was reading through one news group, I came across an interesting posting that wanted to know about "The Battle Of Niihau". At the time, I had very vague memories of my uncle on Kauai telling me about this incident that happened right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but I could not remember enough of the story to post it to the news group at that time. Then, almost by accident, while researching something else, I stumble across information on this story. So now I thought I would share it with you.
So Mark, sit back, relax, and we will explore what came to be known as....
The Battle Of Niihau.
Well Mark, this story starts out with two fighter planes circling around the tiny island of Niihau. Black smoke was streaming from one of the sputtering engines. The residents of Niihau, most of them on their way to church at Puuwai Village, watched as the two plans buzzed their small village and then headed north over the ocean. Then, Mark, as the planes flew over they noticed and recognized the rising sun insignia on the fighters' wings. Now Mark these people had know knowledge of the events that were taking place 150 miles to the southeast on the Island of Oahu. The people of this isolated isle continued their trek to church, curious about the two airplanes but never guessing that on this beautiful, quiet Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Battle of Niihau was about to begin.
Now Mark, before I continue, I guess I should first tell you a little bit about this island of Niihau. You see Mark the Sinclair family had purchased these 73 square miles of kiawe bushes, grassland, and volcanic rock from King Kamehameha V in 1864. The Sinclairs were sheep ranchers from New Zealand and had paid $10,000 for the island. Since that time Mark, the Robinson family, who are descendents of the Sinclairs, have kept the isle and its two hundred or so Hawaiian residents isolated from the complexities and disruptions of the modern world. Unauthorized visits to this "Forbidden Island" are strictly Kapu. The residents live a relatively simple life in the old style.
Now Mark, during the days of late 1941, Niihau did not even possess a simple radio for contact with the outside world. Only Aylmer Robinson, who would come every Monday in his supply sampan from his Kauai estate, would bring any news. The United States Army had apprised the Niihauans of the strained American-Japanese relations in the Pacific. As war clouds loomed, Mark, the Army asked them to plow furrows across the large island fields to prevent planes from landing. Now, Mark, it was into such a field that one of the Japanese planes crash-landed later in the afternoon of December 7. You see Mark, the two fighters had been unable to locate their carrier, and when the crippled craft finally plummeted into the sea off Kauai, the other attempted to land on Niihau.
Well Mark, just image as this pilot saw his comrade go down and he was lost not knowing what to do. He spent about 15 minutes just fling over the island wondering what to do, when, Mark, he finially decides to land. As the plan bounced down into the plowed field, it crashed over boulders, then ripped through a wire fence and then stopped just short of Hawila Kaleohano's home.
When the dust had settled, Hawila cautiously approached the plan. The dazed pilot tried to draw his revolver from its holster, but Hawila quickly yanked the pilot from his seat, breaking his harness. Then Mark the pilot tried to fumble in his shirt for some papers, but again Hawila reacted quickly. He grabbed the packet of documents and held them and the revolver away from the agitated Japanese pilot.
By now, Mark, other villagers had converged on the two struggling men. Once they had subdued the pilot, the Niihauans attempted to question him in English. When the pilot did not respond, the villagers sent for Yoshio Harada, an American citizen of Japanese decent who had been working for a year as caretaker and beekeeper at the Robinson's Niihau house. And it was through Harada that the captured pilot admitted he had just come from Oahu. The Niihauans decided to keep their prisoner under tight guard until Aylmer Robinson's regular Monday visit with the supply sampan.
But Robison never came on Monday or Tuesday or even Wednesday. The U.S. military had restricted any inter-island travel in the wake of the Pearl Harbor raid and the subsequent fear of invasion. Well Mark, the people of Niihau were unaware of the tragedy so near their shores. So each day they marched their prisoner the 15 miles down from the village to the Kii boat landing. But Mr. Robinson was not there; he had always been punctual in the past.
Well Mark by Thursday the villagers had decided to leave the pilot at the Robinson house near the landing rather than trudge back and forth each day from the village. By Friday when the sampan did not show the Niihauans started to get really concerned. So Mark five villagers set fire on a mountain facing Kauai. This was the traditional trouble signal to the Robinson family's Kauai estate. But for the Niihauans the situation was about to turn bad.
Late that afternoon, the pilot indicated to his Hawaiian guard Hanikiki that he wanted to see Harada. Hanikiki escorted the pilot to the honey house where Harada was working with the bees. There both Harada and the pilot pulled guns on the startled Hawaiian. You see Mark Harada had stolen a shotgun and revolver from the Robinson house. He and now his comrade in arms locked Hanikiki in a shed and left to search for Hawila Kaleohano who had taken the pilot's papers. Within minutes, however, Hanikiki escaped from the shed and slipped away to warn the villagers.
While on the road to Puuwai Village, Harada and the pilot waved down a horse drawn buggy carrying a Hawaiian woman and seven children. The two Japanese lined the woman and six of the children one behind the other in single file. They then threaten to kill them all with a single shot if they moved or yelled. Then the two jumped into the buggy and ordered the remaining girl to drive them to the village.
Now Mark, when they got to the village, the two of them went from house to house, threatening to shoot everyone if the pilot's papers were not found. Most of the villagers ran into the nearby bush and caves to hide. An old invalid woman, Mrs. Huluoulani, remained in her rocking chair reading the Bible. When the two threatened to shoot her, she merely said, "Only God has the power over life and death. Anyone else who interferes with that power will be punished." Well Mark this puzzled the pilot and caretaker so much that they left her and kept on searching.
While all this was going on, Hawila and five other men set out in a whaleboat to get help. They rowed for 16 hours, finally reaching Waimea, Kauai, at about 3 p.m. Saturday. But Mark before they could return with help events on Niihau came to a bloody conclusion.
At this point, Harada and the pilot stripped the wrecked plane of its two machine guns and then paraded through the town with the cumbersome weapons, shouting they would shoot everything and everyone if Kaleohano did not come forth. They searched other homes throughout Friday night and, then, Mark, finally set fire to Kaleohano's home and the Japanese plane.
The villagers, weaponless and frightened, were, none the less, planning to recapture their village. Beni Kanahele and another Hawaiian slipped into the village that night and stole the ammunition to the machine gun while Harada and the pilot were ransacking the houses.
Then early Saturday morning Beni and his wife tried to sneak into the town to get food for the rest of the villagers. Well Mark they were both captured and again the two Japanese demanded the pilot's papers be returned. But by this time Beni Kanahele was tired of this whole affair. He told Harada, in Hawaiian, that the two of them should jump the pilot and take his gun. Harada said he did not dare because the pilot would kill him. Beni then grabbed the pilot's arm and tried to twist the gun free. Beni's wife jumped into the fray, but Harada pulled her away. As Beni struggled with the pilot he yelled at Harada to leave his wife alone or he would come after him next. But, Mark, just at that time the pilot jerked his arm free and shot 51 year old Beni three times--one bullet in the stomach, one in the groin, and one in the thigh.
As Beni said later, "That's when I got mad." Now Mark despite his wounds, he lunged at the pilot and growled, "if I'm going to die, I'll kill you first so that you can't kill anyone else." Beni picked the man up by his leg and his neck and through him head first into a stone wall. The pilot died instantly, his skull crushed. When Harada saw what happened he turned the shotgun on himself and fired both barrels into his stomach. He died two hours later.
The Military rescue party arrived the next day but now the battle was over. They took Beni to the hospital on Kauai to treat his wounds. It is said he protested all the way.
Later both Beni and Hawila were presented with the American Legion Heroism medal. Then in August 1945, on the day the war ended, the Army brought Beni Kanahele to Fort Shafter in Honolulu for the presentation of the Purple Heart and the Medal of Merit. Special authorization from Washington was needed for a civilian to receive a Purple Heart. While Beni stood straight and tall, the Army band played "They Couldn't Take Niihau No-how."
They Couldn't Take Niihau No-how
Words and Music by R. Alex Anderson
On the tiny, isle of Niihau no one knew a
war was on:
'Til a Japanese flier decided to retire and
landed with a machine gun.
Then Big Ben Kanahele laid aside
He told the aviator he would throw him
in the crater if he didn't get the...
But the...shot Ben in the shoulder, in
the ribs and in the groin;
Kanahele took a swallow and tightened
up his malo and then he girded up his other lion.
Then big Kanahele grabbed the...
around the belly and through him down against a stone wall
So THEY COULDN'T TAKE NIIHAU
NO-HOW with the Ben Kanaheles around;
The...was a sap to think it a snap
when he set his airplane down.
So THEY COULDN'T TAKE NIIHAU
NO-HOW, when big Kanahele said "Pau!"
He made a grand slam for his Uncle Sam
and THEY COULDN'T TAKE NIIHAU NO-HOW!
Well Mark I am pau. We hope you enjoyed this issue of the Ekahi Ohana. In the next issue I want to look at one of are yearly visitors to the Islands the Humpback Whale.
Until then from all of us here at Ekahi Tours Me Ke Aloha Mark Warden.