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, Georgia and Japan.
“You ought to angle a story about all the Japs working in the steel mill,” the finger-in-the-air lieutenant was telling Pafko. “Now they’re manufacturing sugar mill equipment, selling most of their production to Cuba and the Caribbean Islands. We’ll need to convert the mill to fabricating replacement machinery for damaged ships. Can we trust these Japs to produce war materials to shoot their relatives?”
“Good story idea, Ray.”
They paused while the waitress brought coffees with side jiggers of Jameson whiskey.
“You could add some research on the Great War, showing how peacetime manufacturing switched to making ships and field artillery. You could even ask those Big Five owners if they’ve thought ahead. They’re the ones who are protecting the fifth column.”
Pafko smiled. He had already figured this out, but would let his Navy contact’s enthusiasm wax on. He got some of his best info this way. “They do need the Jap labor.”
“Precisely,” said Ray, slapping the table. “Putting profits ahead of national security. Why aren’t they hiring tradesmen from California, training the local Chinese, turfing out Japanese nationals who will be squeezing sushi into the machinery when war breaks out?” The lieutenant paused to tip his Jameson shot into his coffee and sipped the enhanced Kona brew. In a calmer voice he added, “Do you have anything for me?”
“Shivers is sending another report to Hoover, claiming he can’t find any disloyal Japanese,” said Pafko.
The lieutenant nodded, knowing Pafko had cultivated a leak within the FBI — an agent with a nativist attitude toward the Japanese who grew up in Seattle. He loathed Shivers’ soft-headedness about the “slant-eyed Nips.” The Navy and the FBI traded hard intelligence, but neither was privy to the other’s reports going up the chain of command. “With that Jap girl living in his house, how hard is he looking, for God’s sake?”
“You can’t use this or it’ll blow my source’s cover,” said Pafko.
“Don’t insult me, Andy. I’m in intelligence.”
Pafko smirked. “Suppose the reason the FBI can’t find any Jap espionage agents is because there aren’t any?”
“Then, you wouldn’t have much to write about, would you?” he asked with a matching sneer.
Pafko smiled. “Mama Cherry has two new colored gals fresh from New Orleans. I suggest we mosey over to Hotel Street, have a drink and test-drive the new talent.”
The lieutenant pushed back his chair, took a generous swallow of his coffee and stood up. “What are we doing here?”
* * *
While Pafko and the lieutenant strolled over to Hotel Street, Japanese naval intelligence officer Takeo Yoshikawa entered the Japanese consul’s office overlooking the garden that was bigger and better maintained than the governor’s Washington Place mansion. Flowers bloomed all year long. The koi fish swam through a carefully laid rock garden. Yoshikawa bowed, placed a manila file on the polished desk and sat down. The consul outranked Yoshikawa, but with the military’s ascendancy in Tökyö, neither was sure who really outranked whom. Still, Yoshikawa showed deference, knowing that in a crisis, he would assume control.
He waited as the consul read his report. Yoshikawa was a patient man.
The consul looked up. “So many ships in one place. Your report includes the number and types of planes on two carriers. How can you be so sure? Some could be below decks, others parked on Ford Island.”
“I was at the tea house when a group of beer-drinking NCOs asked the waitress to call a taxi. That’s when I rose and said I had to leave and would be happy to drop them off.”
“Surely they’ve been warned not to talk about military matters, especially to a man who is obviously Japanese.”
“Despite any warnings they must have had, those drunken petty officers bragged how the Yorktown had more planes than the Hornet.”
The consul picked up his empty cigarette holder. “Roosevelt is threatening a total embargo on oil.”
“An undeclared act of war. He is pushing us to attack America so he can help Churchill in Europe,” explained Yoshikawa.
The consul finessed a Chesterfield into his holder. “America. So big, so rich. We have the best ships and planes now, but if war starts, America can out-produce us. We cannot fight a long war against this giant.”
Yoshikawa noted the consul’s defeatist attitude. He would include it in his secret report, which would be hand-delivered by one of his couriers without the consul’s knowledge. Despite his disgust, Yoshikawa picked up the silver lighter on the desk, snapped the fuse, and held the flame for the consul to light his cigarette.
The consul took a long draw and exhaled. “I remember the army promised a short war in China. A few decisive battles. And the Chinese are so much weaker than the Americans.”
“The Chinese don’t mind sacrificing their people. Do you think America will fight a long war for European interests in Asia?” Yoshikawa did not wait for an answer. He had met enough American sailors at the tea house. They wouldn’t stand up to men trained in bushidö, men who embraced the way of the warrior. He rose, held his hands tight against his hips, bowed and left.
* * *
Later that day, Haru heard footsteps bound up the porch stairs. Either Tommy or Kenta, she guessed by listening to the thumping pattern. As the screen door swung open, Kenta’s voice rang out, “Can you feed one more?” Kenta usually ate on campus, but he knew his mother treasured days when any of her children showed up for dinner.
She tried not to show anxiety upon seeing Kenta step into the kitchen wearing his ROTC green khakis and laced-up boots. Whenever she saw him in uniform, she visualized him hunched over, holding a bayoneted rifle while charging into a hail of bullets and bursting artillery shells. While ROTC training was a requirement for freshman and sophomore male students, only Kenji had accepted the Army’s invitation to continue as an upperclassman.
Another pair of footsteps banged up the porch. It was Tommy. He breezed into the kitchen wearing an aloha shirt. Seeing his brother, he waved an official-looking envelope.
“It looks like you’re not going to be the only Takayama in uniform. They’re forming two National Guard infantry units. I hope they draft me early so I can get a head start on rank.”
Haru’s face lost its color. From the moment Congress had authorized the draft by a single vote this past year, she knew that Tommy, who, at 25, had graduated and completed two years in ROTC, was the most likely of her sons to get the call.
“Okäsan! Are you all right?” asked Kenta.
Haru’s color slowly returned to her face. “No, I am not all right. Three of my sons might die fighting each other.”
“Three?” asked Kenta.
“Hiromi wrote that Yoshi has been drafted.”
Once again, Haru told Kenta about the day she had watched the Meiji emperor ride his horse to Yasukuni Shrine to honor her brother, who, along with 78,000 other boys, died in the Russian war.
Kenta and Tommy had heard the story often, but this time, they listened as if it were the first time. Like most young men, Kenta and Tommy had considered battle deaths as statistics.
To be continued . . .