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Long Secret Story of Missing Zero

By James Wynbrandt

July 28, 2016 - The story of the attack on Pearl Harbor, whose 75th anniversary is being marked here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016, has many chapters, but perhaps none less known or more fascinating than that of the Niihau Zero, recounted by Kathryn “KT” Budde-Jones at her Forum presentation here yesterday, and in the recently published Before and Beyond the Niihau Zero, written by her husband, Syd Jones.

“The story starts in the 1920s when [General] Billy Mitchell predicted Pearl Harbor would be attacked by the Japanese on a Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m.,” said KT, who with Syd — both longtime warbird aviators — formerly served as education director and restoration director respectively of Pearl Harbor’s Pacific Aviation Museum.

At that time, aircraft carriers didn’t exist, and Mitchell believed the attack would be staged from the privately owned “forbidden” island of Niihau, some 100 miles west of Pearl Harbor. Mitchell’s warning was largely derided by the military, but a decade later Maj. Gerald Brant shared the prediction with the island’s owner, Alymer Robinson, who agreed to embark on a secret, seven-year project of plowing deep furrows in the island’s fields, making them unusable by aircraft.

Carriers obviated the need for a land base for the December 7, 1941 attack, but the Japanese designated Niihau as a recovery point for pilots of aircraft too damaged to return to their ships, from whence they’d be rescued by submarine. It was only a decade ago that KT and Syd definitively established that one of the Zeros known to have been shot down during the attack crash landed on the still private and sparsely inhabited Niihau, and identified its location. Thus began a years long recovery and restoration effort.

Today the Niihau Zero is on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum, and its story can finally be told in its entirety, said KT, whose previous exploits with Syd include helping treasure hunter Mel Fisher locate the wreck of the Spanish galleon Atocha and its $500 million treasure. “Let history speak for itself.”

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