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. Earlier this year, the Herald concluded chapter-by-chapter publication of his first novel, “Picture Bride,” which chronicled Haru Takayama’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, we follow Haru’s and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.

“A Question of Loyalty” will be released shortly.

Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.

“Our basic training graduation is Wednesday,” said Tommy, greeting his brother.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, little brother,” answered “Taka,” a Harvard Law School graduate who addressed all five of his siblings as “little brother” or “little sister.” Seeing his mother’s concerned eyes as she focused on the bowl of cracked eggs, Taka — short for Takeshi — smothered a laugh. The boys greeted their mother and then Taka continued.

“Tommy, why don’t you chop some onions and tomatoes and I’ll make us an omelet.”

Delighting in a new audience, Tommy recited the fitness trials he had performed under overbearing sergeants and his rifle competition triumphs. He pointed to the marksmanship patch on his upper shirtsleeve. Neither brother noticed their mother’s deepening worry lines.

Haru no longer heard the soft music wafting from the radio. Taka’s and Tommy’s war talk had reminded her of a time when her hawkish convictions surpassed even theirs. She remembered hearing Hiroshima’s cannon booming, signaling a great victory, and running from her bedroom barefoot so their temple could be the first to ring the bell in celebration. She had exulted in Japan’s naval thrashing of Russia in 1905. Seventy-eight-thousand mothers lost their sons fighting the Russians.

“You boys had an uncle who was killed in the Russo-Japanese War.” Oh, why did I blurt that out, she thought immediately after.

Tommy and Taka swiveled around toward their mother, their faces mirroring confusion.

“You never told us,” said Tommy.

“No, and I never intended to.”

At that very moment, Admiral Yamamoto was pacing the floor in the map room of the Yokosuka, envisioning the bombers that had lifted off of his aircraft carrier and were approaching Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor.

Haru began telling her sons her story, shuddering as she remembered.

“Your uncle left Amakusa for work. For a few months, he sent a little money home, as sons were expected to do. The money was desperately needed for food. You boys do not know what hunger is. I do.”

Haru let that sink in for a few seconds, watching the astonishment on their faces as the mixture of eggs and vegetables congealed in the porcelain bowl.

“But then the money and letters stopped coming. After years of not knowing the whereabouts of my brother, I received notice that he had been killed fighting the Russians. A week later, a letter arrived from the Emperor, inviting me — I was only a 13-year-old student then — to witness his soul being added to the book of heroes at Yasukuni Shrine.” Haru paused, her regret evident.

“Oh, the pride. My brother died for the Emperor! That day at Yasukuni, I felt the Tennö’s godly presence as I watched him, so splendidly dressed in uniform, riding a magnificent white stallion into the shrine. I vowed to have many sons so they could serve and even die for the Emperor.”

Haru had not heard Kenji enter the kitchen. His soft hands began massaging her shoulders. Her eyes glistened.

“I glorified war . . .”

She was about to say, “I don’t want any of my sons to die for Roosevelt or Hirohito,” when the drone of airplanes roared overhead.

The brothers ran outside.

Kenji shouted over the noise of the retreating planes. “All that noise over at Pearl Harbor sounds like Chinese New Year’s.”

Wide-eyed, the boys rushed back into the house.

“The planes . . .” said Taka, somberly, “. . . are Japanese.”

The music broadcasting from KGU stopped abruptly. Moments later, the radio crackled back to life.

“We are under attack! This is not a maneuver! This is the real McCoy!”

Haru grabbed Kenji’s hand, her frightened eyes searching his for an answer: What will happen to our children?

Kenta pumped his fist like a lineman who had just sacked the quarterback on the opposing team as he watched the first ashen puffs of antiaircraft fire soar into the fleet of Zero fighters. The dancing ordnance burst into fireballs, then faded like Fourth of July pyrotechnics. Cheers erupted when an exploding disk ripped the wing off of a “Kate” bomber, sending the Nakajima B5N torpedo bomber into a fiery downward spiral.

The percussion of exploding bombs pained Kenta’s ears. Flaming pools of oil laced the water. Fire and smoke danced on the battleships. Two neat rows of Ford Island’s patrol bombers burst into flames under the rat-a-tat-tat onslaught of the Zero machine guns. Beyond the devastation unfolding before his eyes, another fear crept into Kenta’s soul: Dad will be arrested by nightfall. What will happen to Mom? Will we all be sent to internment camps on Molokai?

The detonations billowed into gray towers, then morphed into a charcoal veil. Three successive booming blasts pivoted Kenta’s attention to the bowline of a ship. Bobby yelled to Kenta over the tumult of whining propellers, explosions and antiaircraft fire.

“That’s the Oklahoma. It must have been torpedoed, but how the . . .”

A bone-shattering boom assaulted Kenta’s eardrums, followed a nanosecond later by a massive fireball that momentarily blinded him. Shock waves blew back his hair and singed his lungs. The Walters’ sliding glass doors shattered behind him. Shrapnel rained down. Kenta jerked as a small steel chunk sliced his thigh, although he felt no pain nor noticed the blood. Instead, he thought of his older brother’s work as secretary to the governor’s Council on Interracial Unity: All that planning to avoid internment camps for naught.

Kenta’s sight returned in time to witness an exploding battleship shudder and rise from the water in its death dance. Suspended for a mere fraction of a second, the USS Arizona tilted and then sank before his unbelieving eyes.

What will the Army do with Tommy, stationed at Schofield? Will they take away my brother’s rifle? Cashier him out of the service? Put his entire Nisei battalion in the stockade?

On his far right, Kenta spied a lone P-40 Warhawk rise from adjacent Hickam Air Base and fly into a flotilla of Japanese bombers. In small backyards facing the smoking fleet, wives and children, half of them flanked by their Japanese maids, raised their fists, cheering on the lone pilot.

Do those cheering people see me as an American, or just another Jap?

Kenta swelled with pride as he watched sailors scramble to man more antiaircraft guns. Ack-ack booms soon became an orchestra, almost drowning out the clacking of airborne machine gun fire. Kenta wondered how any plane could pass through the maze of exploding grey clouds of steel. But they did.

He thought of his sister Hiromi and brother Yoshio who had chosen to leave their country to live on foreign soil. Hiromi was an office worker in Tökyö, and Yoshio was serving in the imperial army in Manchuria.

What does this declaration of war mean to their fate, he wondered.

To be continued . . .


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