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. Prior to “A Question of Loyalty,” the Herald concluded the 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.

The MPs drew their sidearms. Crockett’s face twisted like an enraged grizzly. He tightened the grip on his revolver. Not a murmur, a movement — not even a breath of wind could be heard. The click of the hammers from the MPs’ weapons broke the silence. Crockett let his hand fall to his side. “Dirty Japs,” he muttered as he shoved the gun into his holster. Only then did the MPs lower their weapons.

Crockett softened his glare at Walsh. “No disrespect intended, sir.”

“Show’s over,” said Walsh. “Everybody back to your barracks.” He turned to the MPs. “Escort Sgt. Crockett outside and take his weapon. Make sure he gets to his quarters.”

Crockett walked to the front of the tent. Kenta surged forward, his own anger contorting his face. He pointed his finger at the taller man and raged.

“You’re from the same family that couldn’t hold a fort from a ragtag outfit of Mexicans! You Texas losers shout ‘Remember the Alamo!’ like you’re proud of the massacre of your family. Let’s see how you cowards fight without a gun aimed at an unarmed man.”

“Step aside, Kenta,” ordered Walsh. Crockett passed. Walsh turned and blocked Kenta, grabbing his arm with the hidden knife. His anger came through the whisper. “If I don’t see it, this stops right now. Understand?” He held Kenta’s forearm until he got a nod and felt the muscles relax.

“Kenta, I want all the Nisei to stay in their barracks while I sort this out. Don’t let this cretin win by creating a stupid incident. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

An hour later, as the sun was setting, Col. Lyman gathered all the VVV boys between the Nisei barracks.

“Gentlemen. A month ago, I stood up for you when Gen. Emmons asked if I could use some good men. Now I am asking you to stand up for me and call this incident closed. Let the Army take care of this. We don’t take kindly to men drawing weapons on patriots.”

The next day, Kenta’s morale-wounded squad started busting rocks for the foundation of a dirt path they were turning into a tar-covered road. In a year, a new Army division would be living and training on the now-barren parcel. As far as the eye could see, both sides of the road were lined with rough pyramids of rocks that had been dynamited from the granite hills.

The dust had painted their torsos a slick, reddish brown. By noon, a fine filter of sand had dried on the road, and the occasional vehicle driving by swirled powdery grime that lingered in the air. Kenta took a swig of water, now warmed by the heat, from his canteen. Where are those trade winds when you need them?

After lunch, the sun burned even more fiercely without any usual clouds drifting in. Beads of sweat fell from every brow as the men brought their sledgehammers down in harsh harmony. The squad did not complain—rather, they kept swinging their sledgehammers, albeit with less vigor and decreasing intervals between checking the time. There would be no time for a quick baseball game before curfew tonight. Stonehead’s departure and yesterday’s run-in with Crockett had sucked the joy out of the day more than the sun drained their energy. But they kept swinging away.

Maj. Walsh showed up driving a flatbed, which he parked in the middle of the seldom-used road. That meant it was time for a water break. Walsh scrutinized his weary crew and declared, “My watch says it’s 4 p.m. Grab some water and hop in. You Charles Atlas boys knocked out two days of rock breaking.”

The honking of a horn directed everyone’s attention to a dust cloud barreling down the road. The driver kept pressing the horn as if to say, “Get that goddamn truck out of my way!”

Walsh checked the flatbed. “They can get around, but they’ll have to slow down.”

The driver of the oncoming jeep slammed on his brakes ten yards from the flatbed, bringing the jeep to a showy skid. Just as he was about to give the men a piece of his mind, he spotted Walsh’s oak leaves and snapped his mouth shut.

Kenta’s eyes popped.

Seated next to the driver was mean-faced Sgt. Crockett. An overstuffed duffel bag filled the back seat. Crockett glowered as his jeep crawled around the flatbed, directly in front of the VVV boys. Kenta locked eyes with Crockett, knowing he had achieved some sort of victory. Then he saw something that lifted his spirits more than any forced apology ever could. The sergeant chevrons that were on Crockett’s shirt yesterday were gone. The only evidence of Crockett’s tenure as a sergeant where the wisps of red threads that now lay limp.

Walsh laughed and turned his back. “Well, well, if it isn’t Private Crockett slinking away via the back gate, gentlemen. While I have my back turned, you might want to give him a proper send-off salute.”

With parade-ground precision, Kenta’s squad flipped the bird at Crockett, whose crimson face and taut neck veins betrayed his shame.

Walsh turned around again and watched the jeep gather speed into a new cloud of dust.

“Crockett has been banished to some godforsaken place in Mississippi to count t-shirts in a supply room. He volunteered to take a cut in rank rather than face a court martial. You won’t see him again.”

The men climbed onto the flatbed, and Walsh cranked the engine. He spoke to Kenta, riding shotgun, but in a voice loud enough for all the men in the back to hear.

“I hear there’s a group of rowdy new Texan recruits itching for a ballgame. Do you think you could use me at third base and show those boys how Hawaiians play the game?”

“Let’s do it,” yelled Buster, thrusting a fist in the air.

Short Pants took out an ‘ukulele from his bag and strummed a familiar chord. The men broke into a raucous Army ditty they would not be sharing with their mothers.

… To be continued


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