Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” — released this past April — 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 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 and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
Haru perked up, her confidence rebounding in the aftermath of her husband’s arrest and the sudden appearance of Corrine Shivers. “Your father and I agreed we will close the temple and our Japanese-language school,” said Haru. “It isn’t as if we were not prepared. Like everyone else, we just didn’t think it would start so suddenly.”
“What about weddings and funerals?” asked Kenta.
“Wives can handle the ceremonies quietly,” said Haru.
“Mom’s right,” said Taka. “Most of the temples, language schools, festivals — anything that people can point to as un-American needs to…” He stopped, searching for the right word.
“Rest,” said Haru.
“Yes, that’s a good way to put it,” said Taka.
“What can I do?” asked Haru.
“Okäsan, it would help if you could organize the temple women to tear sheets into bandages and take in laundry from the hospitals. There’s enough work for everyone. And you, Kenta,” he said, his words encouraging, “you are doing exactly what you should — serving your country in an army uniform, letting everyone know that we Japanese are first to defend our country.”
He moved his gaze back to Sue, Corrine’s adopted nisei daughter. “We need haoles seeing you in a Red Cross uniform. We’ll counter their prejudices and fears with what their eyes see.”
Kenta said, “Somebody must have told the general that most of the Hawaii Territorial Guard members are Japanese.”
“You’re right. At the same meeting, a Col. Schneider said something like, ‘We can’t be 100 percent sure where their loyalties lie’ — ‘they’ being Japanese Americans. But Short cut him off. ‘Colonel,’ he said, ‘we need all Americans protecting our island.’ He stared down the colonel until he got a ‘Yes sir.’”
Taka paused as four trucks loaded with soldiers roared past from the opposite direction.
“And then…something really amazing happened. Shivers said, ‘General, now that you have issued that proclamation ordering Japanese to turn in their shortwave radios, guns and fireworks, it might be a good idea to have Nisei soldiers handle the confiscations.’
“Everybody saw Col. Schneider roll his eyes, including Gen. Short, who jumped right on him. ‘Herr Colonel Schneider, there are 98 Germans on the pickup list. How many are in custody?’”
Taka grinned at Kenta. “That Kraut bastard squirmed. And I swear he stuttered when he said, ‘Almost half of them, sir.’” Taka laughed. “You just had to be there.”
For the first time that day, Kenta smiled. “Funny, Taka.” The smile curved back to a frown. “But not as funny as my going off to fight my own kind.”
“You know what ‘they’ did in Nanking. They’re anything but our own kind.”
“You’re right,” said Kenta.
Taka walked over to give his mother a kiss. “I have to get back to the Morale Committee.”
“And I have to get back to guarding the governor,” said Kenta.
Kenta did not bike directly back to Washington Place. He diverted to a wood-framed house further down Queen Emma Street and leaned his bike against a palm tree. As he walked to the familiar porch, a figure rose from a white wicker chair. He hadn’t seen her sitting there.
“Kenta! I thought you were guarding Washington Place,” whispered Angelina.
“I am. I have the midnight to four shift, so I need to get back before then.”
“Have you been home?”
“Yeah, got there just in time to see Dad taken away. At least the G-men treated him better than they did your father.”
Angelina rose. The clingy green silk robe she wore accentuated her curves. Her normally perfectly curled hair hung down, wild and unkempt.
“I guess they knew your brother’s connections with the big kahunas.” She sat down on a front porch step and patted the spot next to her. Kenta plunked himself down.
“Everybody’s spooked, Kenta. Scared the midnight boots will march into their home. Scared a neighbor will twist some innocent remark and suddenly any one of us will be hauled off to jail.”
A sharp breeze whipped across the porch. Angelina hugged her chest.
Kenta ached to put his arm around her. “Taka told me something else, Angie. Short will be issuing a decree forbidding any Japanese to own a liquor store.”
“Kenta! That’s the only income we have!”
“Tell your mom to sell her store tonight. She’ll get less than what it’s worth — but more than she will get after Short issues the decree.”
A rifle shot startled them.
“Oh my God, is that gunfire?” asked Angelina. She grabbed Kenta’s hand.
Four more shots rang out.
“Sounds like they came from the power station,” said Kenta. “I think Ueda’s squad is guarding it. Probably just someone shooting at shadows, but I’d better get over there.”
He released Angelina’s hand and then kissed her on the cheek. As he trotted down the sidewalk, Angelina called out, “Be careful, Ken-chan.”
Kenta noted the use of “chan” after his name, conveying a warm tone of affection instead of her usual sarcasm. “I will, Angie-chan.”
He pedaled toward the electric station. A smudge on the sky obscured the stars over Pearl Harbor. The trade winds blew in the smell of smoldering steel and rubber. Two more shots rang out. Revved engine sounds growled from the direction of the armory.
Kenta arrived at the power station and dropped his bike on the grass. He crouched low and duck-walked to the steel-mesh fence, sliding along it, searching for the entrance. He pulled back the bolt of his rifle.
The moon and stars illuminated a side view of Ueda and another Asian face he didn’t recognize. The two soldiers were squatting behind a coiled transformer with rifles aimed up the hill. Kenta puckered his lips and gave a “pssst” sound. Ueda swiveled around and aimed his rifle at the sound.
“It’s Kenta! Don’t shoot!”
Ueda lowered his gun.
“How do I get to you?” asked Kenta.
“Middle of the fence. Gate’s open. Just keep coming,” said Ueda.
Still hunched over, Kenta trotted to the gate and joined the nervous defenders. All three scouted the elevated area covered in shadowy grass and shrubbery.
“We saw something move. We shouted, ‘Halt and stand up.’ It moved. We shouted again, louder. It continued to move, so we shot it. Maybe something hit the ground, maybe not. But the movement stopped.”
“Shouldn’t we go out there and check?” asked the soldier Kenta didn’t know.
“There could be 50 enemy soldiers out there for all we know,” said Ueda.
The sound of a jeep braking on gravel saved Kenta from having to make a combat decision. He turned and shouted, “Up there!”
Three soldiers jumped out of the jeep before it rolled to a stop.
“I think we shot something,” said Ueda.
“You all stay here and cover us,” one soldier said.
A minute later, a soldier hollered from the hill.
“Congratulations, you just killed an enemy cow.”
To be continued …