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.
Washington Place, Honolulu – January 20, 1942.
Lt. Gen. Emmons’ stubby fingers snapped the 11×14” legal sheaf of white paper. He had reread the last paragraph twice. A collection of signatures, all Japanese surnames, skirted the sides and bottom of the text. Behind him, an open jalousie window revealed a full moon evaporating into the dawn. His snow-white hair, combed straight back, framed his pie-shaped face and bald head, and his easy, grandfatherly smile belied no-nonsense decisiveness.
He had arrived at Washington Place at his customary 5:30 a.m. starting time. In his first hour of work, he handled overnight communications from Washington, D.C., where they were already halfway through their working day. He had agreed to meet the Morale Committee’s key members — Hung Wai Ching, Charles Hemenway and FBI director Robert Shivers — at 6:30 a.m. The early morning guests sat in three ornate armchairs in front of a sandalwood desk. Six overhead steel pendants hung in a row from the ceiling, each encasing a 150-watt bulb that gave the men’s skin tone a convalescent’s pallor. The lack of an ashtray explained the sweet, clean air.
“What kind of men do you raise here, Charles?”
“None like I’ve ever heard of before, General,” replied Hemenway.
Emmons read the last paragraph out loud: “‘Hawai‘i is our home, the United States our country. We know but one loyalty, and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible, and hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us.’”
Emmons set the paper down on his desk as gently as one would handle a sacred parchment. “I can’t tell you how much my first inspection tour of civilian installations shocked me. At every hospital, power station and government office I saw armed Japanese standing guard.
“‘We got here too late,’ one of my aides said to me.”
Hemenway, Shivers and Ching gave a tired laugh to what had become an oft-repeated line, allowing Emmons the satisfaction of delivering the Jack Benny one-liner.
“A day later, I visited Adm. Nimitz at Pearl and told him what I saw. He stood up and strolled over to the window facing the harbor. ‘Come here,’ he said, then raised a hand and waved me over. He pointed out the window and said, ‘Look at my sunken ships.’
“And what do I see? More Oriental faces. Driving forklifts, lugging cables over their shoulders, welding iron plates, hammering rivets. ‘Chester,’ I said to him, ‘I always wanted to visit Yokosuka, and you’ve brought their navy base here.’”
“So, what are you going to do?” asked Ching.
“Damn it, let me finish,” Emmons growled.
Ching flushed and bowed his head slightly.
“The following week,” Emmons continued, “I had the police and FBI work with military intelligence to do a little background checking on the Japanese dock workers.”
“And what did you find?” asked Hemenway.
“It seems like they are evenly split over whether Williams, batting over four hundred, or DiMaggio, with his 56-game hitting streak, deserved the Most Valuable Player award.”
Picking up a cable without reading it, Emmons said, “The debate over the evacuation of Japs from the West Coast is over. It’s just a matter of timing the announcement and building the camps.” Emmons pushed two forefingers across his brow. “You know, Charles, I harbor no personal animosity toward your Japanese community. I understand the argument that if the local Japs were going to sabotage anything, they would have done it by now.”
Hemenway gave a resigned shake of his head. “They’re all busy trying to prove they are more loyal than the rest of us.”
With a sudden burst of energy, Emmons thrust his right finger in the air. “But! But you say because it has never happened guarantees it won’t happen. That’s like leaving your car unlocked because no one has ever stolen it.” Emmons sank into his leather chair, clearly unhappy. “Not my words, gentlemen, but I cannot dismiss them either. Pearl Harbor is the prime example of that kind of ‘It can’t happen’ thinking. Charles, I know this issue is somewhat personal for you from the last war.”
Hemenway shifted in his seat. “When we declared war on Germany in 1917, I sat on the Board of Regents at UH. We had a German woman, a professor, who refused on principle to renounce her German citizenship. She claimed she had not done anything disloyal. Despite my argument that taking away a citizen’s rights for no reason other than ancestry undermines what we stand for, the university dismissed her.”
“Point taken, Charles, but we’ve been attacked on our own soil. Most of Europe and Asia are in the hands of modern Attilas and Genghis Khans. The survival of our nation is at risk. We are fighting so that when this war ends, we will still have all those rights.”
Hemenway moved his hand toward the pack of Chesterfields lodged inside his jacket pocket, then caught himself and instead dusted off an imaginary piece of lint. “We understand the political pressures you’re facing regarding our so-called disloyal element.”
Emmons’ mouth tightened and he picked up a newspaper. “Charles, can you straighten these guys out?” He fingered a front-page editorial headlined “the molokai solution.” “The goddamn Advertiser is demanding that I pack off 40% of the population to your leper colony.”
“I’ll take the editor, Farrington, out to lunch for a ‘harmony’ meeting at the Pacific Club, Del. It’s time for me to cash in a few chits.”
Ching cleared his throat. “We understand that if you don’t do something to address the hysteria, you will be forced to follow the West Coast model and intern Nimitz’s work force.”
“No shit! It’s more than the local rabble-rousers stirring up xenophobia.” Emmons paused and ran his fingers across his brow again. “What the hell! If I can’t trust you, who can I trust?” He reached into his briefcase and took out a manila folder, untied a blue ribbon around it and pulled out several sheets of embossed stationery. “This is from Gen. Marshall: ‘Round up 20,000 of your most dangerous Japanese.’” Emmons skipped down the page. “‘Immediate removal of the most dangerous 20,000 people to either the island of Moloka‘i or to a concentration camp located on the U.S. mainland.’”
He then switched to a page of handwritten notes. “Here is a quote I wrote down when I talked to Knox. Only yesterday, our Secretary of the Navy told me, ‘Personally, I shall always feel dissatisfied with the situation until we get the Japanese out of O‘ahu.’” Emmons then plucked the letter with the presidential seal. “This is a copy of FDR’s letter to Knox.” He scanned it until he found the sentence to make his point.
“‘I have long felt that most of the Japanese should be removed from O‘ahu to one of the other islands.’”
Emmons placed the three documents across his desk for his guests to read. “See for yourselves.”
Shivers, Ching and Hemenway leaned forward and read the letters and notes in their entirety.
Ching spoke first. “It’s curious. The president feels the Secretary of the Navy is ‘dissatisfied,’ and yet there is no direct order from the Secretary of the Army. Unless you have another letter?”
Emmons shook his head. “Not yet.”
“It would seem there just might be the tiniest bit of wiggle room, Del,” said Hemenway.
“Agreed. There’s no Sherman-like order to these ‘cover their asses’ letters,” said Emmons. “I couldn’t act immediately even with a direct order. I don’t have the transport. I’m using anything that floats to move the remaining 15,000 military dependents to the Mainland.” Rubbing his forehead, Emmons continued, “So, you all are sure that removing the Japanese community would cause far more problems than it would solve?”
“Absolutely!” said Hemenway.
To be continued …