Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Michael Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. The Herald recently concluded chapter-by-chapter publication of his first novel, “Picture Bride,” which chronicled Haru’s escape from Japan to begin a new life in Hawai‘i as the picture bride wife of Kenji Takayama, a Buddhist priest.
In the second novel, again published by Legacy Isle Publishing, we follow Haru’s and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
“A Question of Loyalty” will be released later this year.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
1941-1944 — Hawai‘i; Japan; Camp Shelby, Miss.; and Italy. On Page One of “A Question of Loyalty,” we share the shock of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor with Haru and her family. We watch in despair as the FBI arrests Kenji just hours after his son, Kenta, rushes to serve in his University of Hawai‘i ROTC unit even as Kenta’s older brother already serving in the Army is stripped of his weapon. We hear the FBI’s response to the bombing from the Takayamas’ daughter, who is living with FBI agent in charge Robert Shivers’ family as their au pair. We share Haru’s fears for the safety of her two American-born children caught in Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack and admire her eldest son’s involvement in the effort to fend off mass incarceration of the Japanese in Hawai‘i.
We are outraged at the humiliation of the Nisei, who are summarily discharged from the Hawaii Territorial Guard simply for being Japanese, but we swell with pride watching those same discharged men form the Varsity Victory Volunteers to prove their loyalty. We cheer when one Takayama son leaves for Wisconsin with the 100th Infantry Battalion and another volunteers for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Even while angry, we laugh as we watch the Nisei navigate the Jim Crow South in Mississippi and worry that the “Nisei experiment” will be terminated as a result of bad blood between the Hawai‘i “Buddhaheads” and the Mainland “kotonks” . . . until a visit to the Rohwer Relocation Camp in Arkansas unites the men.
We are awed by the 100th Infantry Battalion’s courage under fire in Italy as the Nisei answer questions of their loyalty with blood. We watch Shigeo “Joe” Takata’s promising baseball career come to an end when he becomes the first Nisei to be killed in action and yet admire the courage under fire demonstrated by the first three Medal of Honor recipients in the foothills of Cassino, Italy, although they would have to wait more than a half-century for America to recognize their heroism with the nation’s highest award for valor in action.
Part One: Day of Infamy
December 7, 1941
The Emperor’s carrier, the Akagi, powering its way across the Pacific, launched its adrenalin-fueled airmen towards their cataclysmic destiny. In minutes, the elite pilots would be eyeing the orange halo of sunrise while picking up the faint sounds of KGU Radio’s ukulele serenade — radio signals that grew increasingly clearer as the airborne armada drew closer to its rendezvous with infamy.
One hundred miles away, Haru Takayama was stirring from what had been a restless night. In just a few hours, Haru and Kenji would be homeward bound. Not homeward to Japan, but to Waimea, on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
Thirty-two years earlier, she had arrived on the shores of Hawai‘i from Hiroshima, Japan, as the young “picture bride” of Kenji Takayama, a man she knew only through his photograph. He, likewise, knew Haru only through the photograph her adopted parents had mailed to him in Hawai‘i.
Despite Haru’s having lived a favored life as the wife of one of O‘ahu’s leading Buddhist priests, and their six children having been raised in Honolulu for most of their young lives, she had never really felt at home in Honolulu. Not the way she had in Waimea. With each passing year, that first decade she and Kenji had spent in Waimea appeared sweeter and more precious in her rearview mirror.
Haru pictured the land as she had last seen it. Her land. Well, her family’s land, which Haru had purchased as a result of Wellington Carter’s stewardship of Parker Ranch. Such an arrangement would be impossible today, although it seemed so natural back when horses trotted along the town’s crushed-lava roads.
The slow, rhythmic bells of the nearby Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace tolled seven times. The bells might be Catholic, thought Haru, but the gentle meeting of iron bronze on iron bronze reminded her of the ancient bells of her adopted father’s temple in Hiroshima. What flutters our emotions when bells peal for God in his many ecumenical manifestations, she thought. For a brief second, Haru could see a 13-year-old waif pulling hard on the temple bells, celebrating Admiral Togo’s victory over the Russian fleet. Regardless of our notion of God, why, she wondered, do we tether his bells to military triumphs and catastrophes?
In five hours, Haru and Kenji would board a Matson interisland ship for their journey home. A real passenger ship this time — not like the cattle transport that brought her to the Big Island as an 18-year-old bride in the autumn of 1909. Haru craned her neck to watch her sleeping husband. Before his kidney cancer operation, Kenji would have already slipped out of bed and set the kettle on the stove. He would be sitting at the kitchen table, writing the day’s lesson plans for his language school, lessons that taught more history and cultural mores than grammar and kanji. Nisei students attended the classes after finishing their public school day.
All of Kenji’s pastoral responsibilities were now behind him. Months ago, he had turned over his Mö‘ili‘ili parish, bordering the university campus, to a younger pastor and moved into their home on Queen Emma Street to convalesce. Every morning, Kenji walked a slow 30 minutes to the Fort Street Hongwanji where he sat at the corner desk facing the lush ascent of the Pali while writing The First Ninety Days at Your New Parish, a manual for newly appointed parish priests. He finished his workday in time to be home for lunch. Dr. Tebbits had assured Haru that all of the cancer had been cut out, but something in Kenji’s body and spirit had been exorcised along with the yellow mass of runaway malignancy. Knowing that any movement of the mattress would wake Kenji, Haru got up gently and tiptoed to the bathroom.
As eight bells pealed, Kenji’s shoulders shifted ever so slightly.
A minute later, the upstairs flushing sounds announced that “Tommy,” the third of Haru’s and Kenji’s six children, would be the first downstairs. Tommy, whom they had named Tomio at birth, had recently been inducted into the 299th Infantry Regiment. He was home on a weekend pass after completing his basic training and had caught the University of Hawai‘i football game the night before.
Another son wore an infantry uniform, although a different uniform than Tommy. Yoshio, the Takayamas’ second son, wore the uniform of Japan’s Manchurian army. He had been drafted out of Tokyo Daigaku university — Todai for short — because he could not be bothered waiting two hours in line to obtain his American passport before departing Hawai‘i for college.
Kenta, the youngest of their four boys, had joined the University of Hawai‘i’s ROTC program to prove his loyalty to America. “Just marching fodder for upperclassmen chasing Army careers,” Kenta had glibly assured his mother. But Haru’s fears had not been eased in the least. If war came, as the daily news reports shrilled, those ROTC boys would surely be activated.
Even their daughters were not out of harm’s way. “Sue,” the baby in the family — the daughter they had named Sachiko — was now an au pair living with the local FBI director and his wife. Her older sister, the hardheaded Hiromi, had refused to leave Tökyö on the last ship carrying war-expectant expatriates back to Hawai‘i.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” she had written. “Japan might attack Malay or Indonesia to replace the raw materials that warmonger Roosevelt is embargoing, but their army is not so foolish to fight America.”
Banging pans and the exuberant closing of kitchen cabinets reminded Haru that Tommy enjoyed preparing breakfast. If only his omelets were as good as his intentions.
Haru saw Kenji rousing. “Tommy burning us some eggs?” Kenji asked in his soft, morning voice.
“Let’s hope it’s just toast,” Haru said, laughing.
Haru had come to like Western breakfasts. Her guilt over abandoning traditional rice-centered breakfasts was assuaged when she read that Emperor Hirohito had switched to a Western culinary start to his day after visiting the English Royals as a 21-one-year-old prince in 1921.
As she traipsed into the kitchen, skirting packing boxes that covered nearly every inch of the floor, she heard a bike crunch up the pathway to the back door. Taka, she guessed. Haru’s heart swelled with pride as she thought about her number one son’s work with the Council on Interracial Unity, which was dedicated to keeping Hawai‘i’s Japanese out of the rumored internment camps if war came.
Maybe Taka could rescue his brother’s eggs without Tommy losing face. She wondered if Kenta would drop in for his parents’ last breakfast in Honolulu.
To be continued . . .