6 Unsettling Facts About WWII That Aren’t Taught In Most Schools

(Photo by Erich Engel/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Photo by Erich Engel/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Volumes of books have been written about World War II. At this point, generations of students have learned about the conflict, but they learn a very specific set of facts. Here are six unsettling things about the war kids are not usually taught in school.

The Niihau Incident

The Hawaiian Islands of Kauai and Niihau
The Hawaiian Islands of Kauai and Niihau. (Photo enhanced by maps4media via Getty Images)

Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi was a Japanese pilot who took part in the second wave of the Pearl Harbor attack. After the attack, his aircraft crash-landed on a small Hawaiian island called Niihau, owned by the White American Robinson family.

While the Hawaiians who found the pilot removed his weapons, Nishikaichi was treated as a guest. He was fed and given a party. Yoshio Harada, the only Japanese immigrant on the island, acted as a translator. Nishikaichi told Harada what had happened and the translator decided not the tell the others.

Later that day, the Islanders found out about the attack via the radio. Harada and the pilot were being guarded, but escaped from their guard. The duo then took Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele and his wife, Kealoha “Ella” Kanahele, as captives. Ben Kanahele was shot three times during a struggle, but knocked Nishikaichi unconscious by throwing him into a wall. Ella Kanahele killed the pilot by bashing his head in with a rock.

Harada used a gun to commit suicide. Ben recovered and was given the Purple Heart.

One of the shortest soldiers in the war captured one of the tallest

Jacob Nacken is captured in Calais, France during World War II
Jacob Nacken is captured in Calais, France during World War II. (Image Via Daily Echo / Public Domain)

Prior to the outbreak of war, Jacob Nacken was busy with the circus. The German, who stood seven-feet, three-inches tall, traveled the country and was billed as the “giant from the Rhineland.” His work with the circus also took him to Paris and New York, but once he returned to Germany, he was drafted into the Army.

Unfortunately for Nacken, it was hard for him to hide once on the battlefield, and he was captured in August of 1944 in Calais, France. The man who led the crew that captured him was Canadian Corporal Eldon “Bob” Roberts. Ironically, Roberts only stood at five-feet, three-inches tall.

Pilots during World War II had astonishing mortality rates

German fighting ace Erich Hartmann who had 352 kills during World War II
German fighting ace Erich Hartmann who had 352 kills during World War II. (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

While air fights occurred during the First World War, they were far more common during the Second World War. There are a couple of different statistics that show how dangerous it was to be a pilot during WWII and all of them are startling.

  • The life expectancy for newly enlisted Spitfire pilots during the Battle of Britain was only around four weeks.
  • Around 71 percent of the pilots named to a bomber crew died or were labeled missing in action during World War II.
  • An incredible 15,000 American pilots died while in training for the war.
  • The Luftwaffe was an incredibly formidable opponent. The top American fighting ace, Richard Bong, had 40 kills during the war. The top German fighting ace, Erich Hartmann, shot 352 aircraft: 345 belonging to the Soviets and seven to the Americans.

Allied forces killed eight German elephants during the war

Elephants entertain the crowd at the Berlin Zoo
Elephants entertain the crowd at the Berlin Zoo. (Photo by Erich Engel/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

British forces felt that if they continually shelled Berlin, it would be demoralizing to the Germans. To say the first Allied bombing engagement in Germany went poorly would be an understatement. The bombing was targeted, but six of the fifty allied planes crashed. Only two Germans were lightly wounded, and the only death was an elephant in the Berlin zoo.

The bombings continued, however, and became much more effective. Thousands of Germans were killed, along with seven more elephants. By the end of the war, Siam was the only elephant left in the Berlin Zoo.

George H.W. Bush almost had his liver eaten

George H.W. Bush in a plane during World War 2
George H.W. Bush in a plane during World War II. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Despite his privileged upbringing, George H.W. Bush enlisted in the United States Navy as soon as he finished high school – and he quickly became one of the service’s youngest and most promising fighter pilots. He wasn’t overseas for long when he set off on a mission to attack a Japanese installation in Chichijima.

Bush and his two crew members were shot down. The other two crew members died, but Bush was rescued by a nearby United States submarine. Other Navy pilots shot down during the operation weren’t so lucky. Several Americans were captured by the Japanese, tortured, killed and had their livers eaten. Bush’s guilt about his survival had a profound effect on him.

A 12-year-old enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was wounded at Guadalcanal

Calvin Graham ,who enlisted in the Navy at the age of 12
Calvin Graham, who enlisted in the Navy at the age of 12. (Image Via YouTube Screenshot)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were plenty of young men eager to enlist in the military. There was an age limit, though. In order to enlist, a young man had to be at least 17 years of age or 16 with parental consent. Calvin Graham wasn’t willing to wait. The Texan was only 12 years old when he fooled the Navy into letting him enlist.

Graham was sent off to basic training in San Diego and while he didn’t like it, he toughed it out. He shipped off to the Pacific and was wounded in 1942 at the Battle of Guadalcanal, and for his efforts was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. His mother revealed his actual age when he went to his grandmother’s funeral without permission.

When he was 17, he formally joined the Marines.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in psfk.com, foxsports.com, politicususa.com and hillreporter.com. He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.