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.
In the wake of FDR’s July 1941 oil embargo announcement, Robert Shivers convened an emergency meeting of the Committee for Interracial Unity at his home.
Col. Kendall J. Fielder of Army intelligence arrived first. He was in charge of the internal security of Hawai‘i. Sue, dressed in a zebra-striped dress cinched conservatively at the waist and trimmed with white lace around the hem, greeted him at the door. She took his garrison cap and slim leather briefcase and then waited for him to unlace his boots. Shivers had assured his guests that they did not have to remove their shoes, even though he and his wife had adopted the habit after Sue introduced it to them. Like most haoles in Hawai‘i, he admitted that tracking dirt into the house made no sense.
Sue, ever-ubiquitous and hardly noticeable, walked over to the wet bar. She didn’t have to ask if or what Fielder wanted to drink. She poured Coca-Cola into a glass, halfway, and then added ice cubes. Sue made sure to leave room for a generous shot of Black Label.
Shivers and Fielder turned to the sound of footfalls approaching the front door. Hung Wai and Takeshi entered after a perfunctory knock. Burns and Yoshida slipped through the door behind them, their shoes already off and left on the porch. Burns ambled into the living room without a word, satisfied with a nod and a two-fingered salute.
Shigeo Yoshida opened with one of his zingers. “My mother’s best friend just got sacked by a Navy captain. He told her Japs couldn’t be trusted with his children.”
“He actually said that?” asked Fielder, incredulously.
“Well, not in those exact words,” said Shigeo, grabbing a highball glass from the bar. He used the tongs to drop ice cubes into it. “But that’s what he meant. The embargo news breaks and he goes home and finds this woman playing with his two kids in the backyard. He tells her, ‘In the current circumstances, you might be more comfortable not working on an American Navy base.’” He poured a shot of Johnny Walker Black over the crackling ice and added a dash of club soda. He glanced at Hung Wai. “You’re going to tell me you can find her an off-base job, right? Maybe you can for one person. But what about all the others?”
Hung Wai accepted a cup of tea from Sue. “Yes, most likely I can find your mother’s friend a job. More important, my ladies’ committee made phone calls this afternoon. There have been very few firings. Most military wives are reassuring their
Japanese maids that rumors of war will not affect their jobs. And except for one egg-throwing incident, the Korean and Chinese communities are calm.”
The thunking of boots racing up the front steps turned everyone’s attention to the door. The screen door opened, and the Navy intelligence officer marched into the living room. Sue stood in front of him, ready to take his cap.
He glared at Sue, who resisted putting her hand over her nose to deflect his alcohol breath. His body wobbled, and in the same motion, he swept his hands. In doing so, his arm whacked Sue across her chest. She stumbled backwards, hitting her head on the Shiverses’ wedding portrait hanging on the wall. The picture fell to the floor, shattering the glass.
Takeshi quickly rose from the table and rushed to his sister’s side.
“This wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t have a spy living here,” the officer slurred,
“We’ll handle this,” said Hung Wai, quickly stepping forward at seeing Takeshi’s closed fists. “Wakarimashita,” Takeshi muttered, his pulse pounding, his face flushed.
“Are you all right?” asked Shivers, helping Sue up. Sue shook the glass off the back of her dress. “Hai . . . yes, Papa Shivers. I’m OK.”
Shivers put his arms around her.
The intelligence officer studied the embrace. “Your daughter! No wonder you’ve gone soft on them and defied the president’s orders. I’m going to send an official report regarding this breach of security to Admiral Kimmel.”
Burns smelled alcohol on the officer’s breath and then caught a whiff of something else — perfume, and the scent of sex? Hotel Street, thought Burns. “You might be doing it from a prison cell,” he said in an iron voice. “You just assaulted a woman in front of a police officer and the FBI.”
After walking Sue to a chair, Shivers went directly to the telephone atop his radio console and started dialing. “I’ll save you time. I’m sure the admiral would like to hear about your little . . . raid.”
“You can fool the admirals,” hissed the intelligence officer. “But we,” throwing his shoulders back, “know what you are doing here.” He teetered backward on his heels and almost lost his balance. He steadied himself against the wall and then stomped out of the house.
Shivers dropped the phone handle into its carriage.
“Are you OK?” Takeshi asked.
“He didn’t actually hit me, just knocked me off-balance.” Sue smiled. “Mom Shivers bought some fresh strawberries,” she said in a tone suggesting nothing had happened. “Maybe now is a good time to bring out a bowl.”
Hung Wai nodded his head. “Ah, how very Japanese of you, Sue.” The men laughed, easing the tension in the room. Everyone knew she would return with a bowl of strawberries — cleaned, cut and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
“If there was any doubt about the seriousness of our work, this Navy officer gave us our marching orders,” said Shigeo. “What’s he going to do? What are we going to do?”
“Nothing and nothing,” said Shivers. “He won’t report
anything, fearing assault and battery charges, and we won’t do anything that distracts us from our mission. As we know, the admiral is not like his predecessors. He’s met Sue here and has been the epitome of graciousness. He’s very much aware of how critical the Japanese community is to the economy and to the maintenance of his ships. With war drawing close, I will recommend he assign a more senior officer to our future meetings.”
Fielder opened his valise. All eyes watched him take out a beige envelope marked “TOP SECRET.” As he unwrapped the figure-eight string spun around the two buttons on the envelope, he spoke in a voice permanently hoarse from his three-pack-a-day habit. “I have a copy of Grew’s telegram to State,” he said, referring to the long-serving American ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew. Fielder fingered a yellow sheet from the envelope and held it in front of his face. “Japan will do whatever is necessary to secure oil. If we wanted to give Tojo an excuse to take over the government completely, the embargo has done it.”
Fielder put the telegram copy on the table. “Unless Roosevelt rescinds the oil embargo, Japan will attack American interests. Our forces in the Philippines and Guam cannot stop an invasion, and there’s no way we can supply MacArthur’s limited troops.”
“This makes our purpose all the more urgent,” said Hung Wai, never missing an opportunity to get everyone to focus on the committee’s mission: prevent internment.
“I just got back from Tokyo High,” said Shigeo, using the nickname for McKinley High School because of the predominance of Japanese students. “I asked a community gathering there what worried them most if war breaks out. Their biggest fear is the police. There are more prongs on a fork than Japanese on the police force. They want you,” Shigeo eyeballed Burns, “to recruit more Japanese into the force.”
“If it were up to me, I would,” said Burns. “But I can tell you with certainty . . . it’s not an option.”
Shigeo stood up. “Then why have these public meetings, supposedly to reassure the Japanese and elicit their input if their recommendations are just dumped in the trash?”
“Rein in your horses, Shigeo,” Burns said. “You know recruiting more Japanese for the police force is not a possibility. Let’s not start trouble with the Hawaiians. The police force is one of the few decent jobs reserved for them. But maybe there is another approach, something less dramatic than your do-or-die ultimatum.”
“A liaison group?” asked Hung Wai.
“Something like that,” said Burns. “I would call it a ‘contact group.’ Ask neighborhoods to choose a few guardians — or whatever we want to call them — to act as the contact officers with police. I think we could get them some type of badge. Make it official.”
“Jack, we’ve all heard you say the Issei should have the right of citizenship. Why not go on the record?”
Burns looked around the room. Facial expression and nods were affirmative. “Maybe the Star-Bulletin would let me write an editorial in response to all the theatrics from the Advertiser.”
“They would, Jack,” said Hung Wai.
“And speaking of the Advertiser,” said Shigeo, “no doubt you all saw how Pafko claims that since the Japanese grow half of Hawai‘i’s vegetables, we are all at risk of food poisoning once Tojo gives the word.”
Hung Wai looked at Fielder, and then Shivers. “What’s the latest from Washington?” That was shorthand for, “What’s the likelihood that the Army or the FBI will be ordered to intern all Japanese in Hawai‘i?”
“The Army is satisfied that our Japanese will do little or nothing to support Japan if hostilities begin,” replied Fielder, pausing for effect. “Any threat to Hawai‘i will come from a Japanese invasion force. Highly unlikely, but if they landed, we would be hard-pressed to defend the island. Washington vetoing our latest request to recruit a local Nisei battalion is a mistake.”
Shivers waited until he swallowed a strawberry. “Hoover is satisfied with the list of approximately 2,000 names of outspoken imperialist sympathizers and community leaders.” His eyes involuntarily darted to Takeshi, which he instantly regretted. Since everyone caught the look, he acknowledged what it had conveyed. “That includes your father, Takeshi. He is not one of the 400 nationalists, but . . .”
“It’s OK, Mr. Shivers, no offense taken,” Takeshi said quickly. “If you are not seen making a large number of arrests quickly, the call for mass internment will raise its hysterical head. My father understands. All the priests, language school teachers and union organizers expect to be arrested if war breaks out. My dad has been interviewed twice. He realizes the few might save the whole.”
To be continued . . .