Mike Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Mike Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. Last year, the Herald 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, we follow Haru and Kenji’s children through the World War II years. “A Question of Loyalty” will be released in the next few months. Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.

By 3:25 p.m., all of the hill defenders were back in the gym. Late arrivals had swelled the ranks to almost 400 young men, all untrained but eager. They were forming up again at the sergeant’s command. Frazier climbed the bleachers for the second time that day, and the student soldiers drew to attention. Beads of sweat dribbled down Frazier’s forehead, his nearly drenched uniform stuck to his chest. After thanking the men for going out on patrol to defend St. Louis Heights, he got to the point.

“Governor Poindexter has issued a proclamation stating that all of you are eligible to be activated into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. Those who volunteer will remain at attention to take the oath; those who wish to remain a civilian, fall out.”

Only the drone of American planes, taken too late to the sky, rent the silence. Smith’s round eyes challenged his mostly almond-eyed assembly.

Kenta’s voice rang out. “We know but one loyalty, and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans.”

As the gym broke into cheers, the sergeant handed Frazier a note. The major read it and then nodded. He had the sergeant give the attention order to bring the young men back to order. Satisfied, he addressed the assembly.

“I have just received word that Governor Poindexter has declared martial law.” Question marks registered on the men’s faces. “The governor has stepped down. General Short is now the military governor of Hawai‘i. All civilian courts and the Legislature have been disbanded, and the Hawai‘i Constitution has been suspended. General Short will rule by decree. Whatever he orders or proclaims has the force of law. You must obey.”

No question mark appeared on Kenta’s face. He remembered the foretelling, that Sunday dinner three years ago when his brother Taka had announced, “Plans for martial law in Hawai‘i are in place in the advent of war with Japan.”

Their mother had asked the questions that went to the heart of matter: “Why Hawai‘i? What does it mean to our home?”

“The 40 percent,” replied Taka. Everyone at the table knew what Taka meant. “Martial law means Japanese newspapers and radio stations will cease operations. Your shortwave wireless that brings Tökyö radio stations into your home will be confiscated. Japanese fishing boats will be grounded; they won’t be allowed to leave shore.”

Kenta glanced over at Akira Otani in the next squad. His father’s fish market would disappear. Where would Hawai‘i get its fresh fish? While we Japanese are 40 percent of Hawai‘i, we account for more than twice that percentage of the fishing fleet.

Major Frazier’s “Raise your right hand” order brought Kenta back to the here and now. Frazier administered the oath to 363 young men and announced that they would enter the Hawaii Territorial Guard at the rank they held in their ROTC units. Kenta, who had been promoted to corporal only two weeks earlier as an incentive to sign up for next year’s ROTC junior class, took back his defeatist thoughts. Maybe this war will be an opportunity to move up the social ladder.

Captain Smith’s voice filled the room. “Listen up!” he said, holding a clipboard in his left hand. “Company A, find some shovels and get out to Kamehameha Highway and start digging trenches. Don’t ask me where. Pick a high spot with a good view of anyone coming down. The buses that brought you here are on standby. Grab one. Try to be nice about it.

“Company B, you are being deployed to the power stations. See that big guy in the yellow hard hat? He’s the chief engineer. He has a bus waiting for you.”

Smith turned his booming voice toward Kenta. “Company C, you have the Washington House.”

The governor’s office and residence, thought Kenta. He caught himself. The military governor’s office and residence. Only a five-minute bike ride to his parents’ Queen Emma Street home. Maybe he could stop by. A thought hit him and he rushed outside.

He hustled over to the bank of pay phones, dropped in a nickel and dialed. He and many of his fellow cadets ignored the order forbidding civilian use of phones to keep the lines open for the military. I’m not a civilian anymore, Kenta thought. On his eleventh attempt, he finally got an operator. Kenta identified himself as Corporal Takayama and gave the operator his parents’ phone number. He held his breath — and then breathed easier when he heard the familiar clicks of the operator connecting the number with her switchboard. The Takayama family had one of the few residential phones in Hawai‘i, a privilege of his father’s religious position. That privilege, however, also earned Kenji Takayama continual FBI scrutiny.

Moshi moshi.” It was his mother’s voice on the other end.

Suddenly, a meaty hand reached across Kenta’s face and slammed the receiver down, cutting the connection.

“Now unless I disconnected your call to General Short, get on a bus,” the sergeant ordered, pointing to a row of school buses gathering in the parking lot next to the gym.

“Yes sir!” snapped Kenta. Given the sergeant’s mood, Kenta didn’t think it wise to explain that his company had been ordered to bike to their Washington House assignment. Kenta hoped the phone-banging sergeant would not be assigned to his unit or notice his absence during his planned detour to his family’s home.

As he walked over to the bus line, Kenta’s eyes lit up as he spotted a pretty nisei girl in a sleeveless white dress peppered with blue polka dots, Angelina Muramoto. Then again, his girlfriend’s beauty captured everyone’s attention. She rushed up to Kenta and started speaking animatedly, her hands flitting about like an Italian, a fitting gesture given her name.

A bubbly cheerleader type of gal, despite having lived in Japan for four years from the sixth to ninth grade and being the daughter of conservative parents, Angelina had abandoned her Japanese reserve and adopted a carefree haole demeanor that was even more unconstrained than most haoles. Kenta, in an undeclared state of love and awe, found himself both drawn to and intimidated by her social prowess.

“They arrested my dad!” she cried. “He expected it, being a kibei, but still . . . ” “Kibei” were American-born but educated in Japan.

“Dad’s the least political person. We just own a liquor store.” In Japan, Angelina never thought of herself as kibei since she had attended the Heishikan, an all-Nisei school where English was spoken in many of the classes and on the playground.

One of the better kanji students at her father’s Japanese language school in Hawaii, Angelina was placed in the advanced class at the Heishikan, where once again she excelled.

Gifted in math, she loved the logic of kanji — how one symbol often served as the basis for another word or thought. The ideogram for tree was a stick with “branches;” a copse was double the symbol and triple for a forest. She hated the symbol for noise, which was the kanji character for a woman written three times.

Thinking of his own father, Kenta said, “I’m sorry, Angie.”

“Dad’s sick, lying in bed in his pajamas, when some badge-waving haoles force their way into our house. Dad stumbles into the living room. One FBI guy pokes a gun in his stomach. A gun! He says, ‘Out! Now!’

“My mom’s yelling at them to wait; she’ll pack him some clothes. The big guy points the gun at her and says they are leaving, right now. They push Dad out the door.”

The same sergeant who had slammed down the receiver when Kenta was making his pay phone call eyed the crowd gathering around Angelina.

“We have to go, Angie,” said Kenta, catching the sergeant’s scowl. He gave the sergeant a quick nod and then addressed his squad. “Let’s grab our bikes and get going.”

Kenta turned to walk over to the Atherton Hall bike rack, and Angelina grabbed his left arm.

“What about your dad? He’s more high-profile than mine. Did they get him, too?”

“I don’t know, but he has a bag packed.”

To be continued …

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