Island played little-known role in Pearl Harbor
The island of Ni’ihau, northwest of Pearl Harbor, and the western-most main Hawaiian island, played a factor during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ni’ihau, the Forbidden Island, has been privately owned since 1864, and had (and has) a mix of Polynesian and Japanese ancestries. The Japanese military incorrectly considered it uninhabited and designated it a place to emergency land, then go to the north coast for a rescue submarine.
A Japanese Zero pilot, after his escort and strafing mission, was returning the carrier Hiryu. His flight was jumped by American P-36A fighters and his Zero was hit in the fuel tank. He went to Ni’ihau, landed hard and was groggy.
Ni’Ihuan residents confiscated his pistol and papers but he was initially treated well. News of the attack on Pearl Harbor and surroundings hadn’t yet reached Ni’ihau.
After the news got to Ni’ihau, not all residents favored the pilot. A small number of residents, all with Japanese ancestry, assisted the pilot and “captured” the passive island. During the next few days, that group lost favor with other residents who subsequently overpowered the pilot and a Ni’ihuan man with him — both had guns.
To avoid local wrath, the Ni’ihaun supporter shot himself and died. The pilot was overpowered and killed by another Ni’haun who, in 1945, received the Medal of Merit and the Purple Heart for injuries suffered, since he had been shot three times by the pilot.
In January 1942, this incident was cited as a reason why Japanese residents along the West Coast may be a threat to aid Japan, thus needing internment.
Interestingly, toward the end of World War II and the formation of the United Nations, President Roosevelt instructed Secretary of State Hull to consider the island of Ni’ihau as a location for the United Nations.