Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
While Haru and Rev. Adams were inspecting her camp, Sam stood in Wellington Carter’s mahogany-paneled office. Photographs of his paniolo winning rodeo contests lined the walls. The giant photograph behind Carter’s desk showed Ikua Purdy, Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low and Archie Kaaua sitting on their steeds in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with a roaring crowd acknowledging their victory in the 1908 World Rodeo Competition. The dimly lit room with small windows, catching only patches of the streaming sun, stank of stale cigar smoke. Sam held his shoulders back, but could not hold his eyes steady on the big man.
“I don’t think I have ever asked you for a favor, Mr. Carter. And if this were just about me, I would not be here.”
“Must be mighty important, Sam. You’re not the complaining type.” A sly smile crinkled his eyes. “I saw Kame yesterday. Am I right in thinking that her belly has swollen?”
Sam grinned and stood a little taller. “Yes, sir. We are hoping for an April birth.” He paused, his face returned to its sober expression. “The American Legion told me we couldn’t march tomorrow in the Washington Day parade.” He balled his fists. “They say we are not Americans, not loyal to the American flag.”
“It’s this strike, Sam — a nasty business, bringing out the worst in people on both sides.” He ran a hand through his blond hair streaked with grey and then narrowed his eyes. “Sam, tell your boys to clean their boots. They will be marching.”
* * *
An hour later, William Cox, the legion commander and school superintendent, sat across from Wellington. Streaking rays had warmed the office by midmorning, but the mood was anything but sunny. “What’s with the urgent summons, Wellington?”
The stress in your voice tells me you know exactly why you are here, thought Carter. “What’s this I hear about your not letting the Japanese brigade march in the parade, William?”
“Not real Americans, Wellington. Hell, you know that. They do OK as cowboys, but they worship a false god, bow to the emperor . . .”
Carter raised his hand to form a stop sign. “Seems you didn’t mind signing them up when we declared war on the Kaiser.” Carter kept his voice smooth and low as always.
“A mistake I regret. Got caught up with the urgency of the war mobilization.”
“The parade is America honoring all those who wore the uniform, William.”
Cox stiffened his back and fixed Wellington with an uncompromising stare. “I know where you’re going with this, Wellington. If I had all those Japanese cowboys working for me, I might say the same thing. But half that brigade is cane workers. My men won’t march with Jap strikers. With all due respect, there’s nothing you can say that will change my mind.”
“Those Japanese boys are no less worthy than any man who wore our khaki.” Carter paused to let his next words sink in.
“The school board rents their classroom buildings from me for a dollar a year. Effective next month, the rent is $500 dollars. Payable in advance.” Carter sat back in his chair, stone-eyed cold.
Cox sat up straight. His frown lines deepened. “Blackmail, that’s what this is!”
“It is. So, either you tell the rest of your school board that your refusal to allow American veterans to march has cost them $500 a month they don’t have, or you contact Sgt. Akiyama and tell him you’ve had a change of heart.” He looked at the wall clock. “I expect to hear from the sergeant by lunchtime.”
“I won’t forget this, Wellington.”
“Maybe not, William. But you will get over it. You are a good American. Just wrong on this issue. Tell your men how Akiyama was poisoned by German gas and earned the right to march.”
Cox dropped his angry demeanor. This was Wellington Carter. Misplaced softness on Japs, but Waimea’s most powerful person. “I’ll appeal to the men’s patriotism.” He walked out with as much dignity as he could feign.
* * *
The following morning, dressed in his sergeant’s olive-drab wool uniform, Sam stood erect, reviewing his 27 fellow marchers. For the umpteenth time that morning, Sam pulled out the half-size ofuro towel from his pocket and buffed the new specks of dust off the toes of his knee-high boots.
Waimea’s only fire truck struck up its engine, tested its siren and pulled out of the park and into the parade behind a troop of marching Boy Scouts.
“All right, men, we’re next,” Sam bellowed in his sergeant’s voice.
“You mean last,” said a veteran, adjusting a strap on his backpack.
“Like Santa Claus,” laughed Sam, understanding the frustration wrapped in the complaint, but refusing to let it take hold. “And we’ve got the biggest flag,” he pointed out, referring to Carter’s loan of the six-foot-high American flag that normally fronted the Parker Ranch shopping complex.
The sound of galloping hoofs turned the men around. More than a hundred paniolo, fancied up in colorful shirts, wide-brimmed leather hats, buffed chaps, two-toned engraved boots and gleaming spurs, reined in their horses. “Sorry we’re late,” shouted a big Hawaiian holding a large American flag — large, but not as big as Sam’s. “Being we have horses, I suspect it’s better marching last and not first,” he laughed. Sam broke out in goose bumps as he noticed that a third of the riders were haole. Paniolo took care of their own, regardless of the slant of their eyes or the hue of their skin.
Sam faced his men. “Right shoulder arms!” The men lifted their rifles from the parade rest position and placed them on their shoulders. Sam pivoted 180 degrees. “Forwarrrrrrd . . . march!”
The cheers from the Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos, Portuguese and Japanese lining the sidewalks carried up the street where temporary VIP bleachers had been built for the town’s leaders — mostly Caucasian, but including a token smattering of Hawaiians and Japanese, including Haru and Kenji.
Haru watched in dismay as several haoles began drifting off when the Japanese veterans started to pass. Directly in the row above her, beer-drinking haole onlookers made no attempt to keep their voices down. “The school board wanted those slant-eyed brats to attend our school to assimilate, learn real English. And what happens? My kids come home speaking that pidgin-shit garble.”
A second voice added, “And we have to close the schools on the emperor’s birthday because the heathen half of the school is a no-show.”
“We all know they plan to take over Hawai‘i.”
At that remark, a nearby Hawaiian raised his eyebrows and baritoned, “Imagine that . . . an alien race taking over Hawai‘i.”
“Let’s get out of here,” said the first haole. “I don’t need to see these make-believe soldiers.” The two men clunked down the bleachers, rudely bumping Haru as they did so. They made no apology, but Haru had no time to dwell on the insult. Below, Sam’s sergeant-voice filled the air.
“Turn right, halt!” The unit turned as one on Sam’s command.
“Present arms!” The men lowered their rifles and held them out in military respect.
“Begin drill!” This was a Sam order not found in the sergeant’s drill manual. The men moved their rifles in unison in eight precision movements, slapping their rifle stocks at each fast-moving change. They ended at parade rest.
More whites strolled away.
At that moment, Sam’s unit began singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The departing whites looked confused. Some stopped. By the time the chorus got to “the twilight’s last gleaming,” everyone stood still.
“. . . And the home of the brave.”
To the background of applause and shouts, Sam shouted in sequential cadence.
“Right turn! Shoulder arms! Forward march!”
That’s when Bobby Zucker and Johnny Pender, not quite teenagers whose fathers were deacons in Rev. Adams’ church, leaped from behind an ice cream stand and threw tomatoes at the Japanese soldiers. A spoiled tomato hit Sam on the neck. Red juice slithered down into his collar. He never flinched. Half of the haoles applauded the young boys’ bravado.
Not Rev. Adams. He turned to Kenji. “This strike . . .” He shook his head dolefully. “It’s ripping apart the fabric of our community, Takayama-san.”
“Yes, it is, but what recourse do the workers have?”
“Perhaps none, but maybe you and I do.”
To be continued . . .