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 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 this novel sequel, 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 – April 6, 1942
Emmons wearily strolled around the brightly lit map room, which had been renovated into a room-within-a-room to comply with blackout requirements. The room stank of stale tobacco, hours-old bologna sandwiches and rank body odor. Emmons pulled out a stick of Wrigley’s peppermint gum from its packet as he glanced up at the bank of international clocks on the wall. It was 11 p.m. today in Honolulu, 5 a.m. tomorrow in DC and 5 p.m. tomorrow in Tökyö.
Five minutes ago, Emmons had dismissed everyone and ordered them to go home. The wall maps were hardly reassuring. On one wall, red pins marked the depleted but still formidable German armies clawing at the gates of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. The Asian map showed the fallen Dutch East Indies, Singapore and Hong Kong, now part of the Japanese Empire. He knew the last blue pin, Corregidor, an island in Manila Bay, would soon be replaced with a red pin. Wainwright’s troops on the island were hunkered down, trapped and starving in an underground fortress.
He stared at the Pacific map as he unwrapped the piece of gum. Midway lay to the northwest, Johnston Atoll to the west, and Christmas Island to the south. Yamamoto’s carriers were back in the Pacific. Slipping the gum into his mouth, Emmons reflected on his preparations for a possible invasion of Hawai‘i or Midway. His mainland counterpart, Gen. John DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command, was squandering precious manpower rounding up west-coast Japanese. That, in turn, was putting pressure on Emmons to follow Knox’s internment orders.
This idea of putting a third of Hawai‘i’s population into camps gnawed at his sense of mission. He rose and headed for his office, fighting the urge to detour to the side room where he kept a bunk for late nights like tonight. An idea had been percolating for several days now. He had seen the VVV boys building fences and roads at Scho-field, and the Japanese nurses at Tripler caring for wounded sailors. He knew the wives of incarcerated priests were making bandages with donated sheets from their temple parishioners.
Rather than just carp about the absurdity of using the Marines and soldiers to round up a hundred thousand Japanese, why not take the initiative? He had been on the verge of discussing his idea with Hemenway and Hung Wai Ching but had decided to wait. He could predict their level of enthusiasm for the idea. Why set up a false set of expectations? Everything he had learned at West Point validated the idea; yet, darker political considerations were ascendant in Washington. No, he would have to do this himself. Not even his staff could know about it. He knew that his proposal would enhance military capabilities and that a positive response from the Department of War would inadvertently boost the civilian morale of Hawai‘i.
He sent the terse memo in code.
To Secretary Knox: There are now two thousand Nisei serving in various military units in Hawaii, having been drafted prior to December 7. They want to keep serving. Request permission to organize an all-Nisei unit to fight in either North Africa or Europe. The unit would give a good account of itself.
More than a month passed before Emmons received a response from the Department of War.
Regarding memo of April 6, 1942, requesting formation of all-Nisei unit. Not favorably considered.
Six weeks later, Emmons shook his head in disbelief as he read orders to send his Nisei 298th and 299th Hawaii National Guard units to Wisconsin for combat training.
Honolulu – May 28, 1942
Deep wrinkles etched Haru’s brow as she surveyed her silent living room. The mid-morning sunbeams accented the reflective sheen of the freshly polished cherry-wood dining table. Six lacquered chopstick sets rested in porcelain holders parallel to hand-decorated plates lying on woven bamboo placemats. For the first time since that dreadful day when Haru watched the FBI agents take her husband away, all her children living in Hawai‘i would be together.
Angelina, who was almost another daughter to her, bounced in through the front door. “Auntie Haru, look what I have!” She raised a Coca-Cola bottle half-filled with rationed cooking oil in one hand and a bottle of daiginjo sake from her family’s private stock in the other. Haru turned to look, and Angelina immediately lost her peppy demeanor. Shocked by Haru’s pallor, Angelina blurted out, “Are you OK, Auntie Haru?”
“Just a cold coming on. Didn’t sleep well last night.”
Considering the news Tommy had delivered that morning that his unit would soon be shipping out of Hawai‘i for combat training in Wisconsin, Angelina accepted Haru’s reply with skepticism. She rushed ahead to cover the awkward moment. “Where is everyone?”
“Kenta called from Schofield. He’s buying all the vegetables he can. Some of his squad members are helping out,” said Haru. The VVV boys were using their PX ration privileges to compensate for the civilian food shortage in Hawai‘i. Many Japanese truck farmers, who produced half the island’s fruit and vegetables, had stopped planting after FDR issued Executive Order 9066, rounding up all west-coast Japanese and herding them into camps. “And Sachiko’s out back cleaning fish. She was lucky — she reached the ‘A‘ala fish market just as a three-man boat docked and unloaded four ice chests filled with mahimahi.”
Haru began to explain that Tommy had phoned to tell her he’d catch the next bus from Käne‘ohe but stopped. “I will be right back down,” she said, and hurried up the steps with a forced smile and gritted teeth. She made it to the toilet bowl just in time to kneel and heave, Tommy’s words still echoing in her head. “Okäsan, the army is making us a combat unit.”
As Tommy had rattled on about earning a day pass and calling for a celebration, Haru’s memory sped back 26 years to the Yasukuni Shrine. Once again, she saw the Emperor riding tall on his white steed, honoring the latest soldiers — including her brother — who had given their lives in the Russian war. She could not expel her thoughts of that day. Bowing deeply to the man-god, pledging to give birth to sons who would die for him. Had she really done that?
Haru’s hands gripped the bowl’s edges for support as she rose, then wobbled over to the sink to rinse her mouth. Combat means my sons might die. I despise the prejudice that kept my boys out of combat because of their Japanese ancestry. Yet, that prejudice kept three of my boys safe. I should be ashamed of feeling this way, but I cannot bear the loss of even one son. Haru reached for her toothbrush. So many sons. What are the odds all will survive? She squeezed the Colgate onto the bristles and began brushing her teeth. Hard.
Foolish Yoshi. Now stationed on the Siberian border, she hoped he would not see combat since the Imperial Army did not trust posting Japanese Americans on the front lines.
Haru rinsed her mouth again. Today, it is Tommy. Can Kenta be far behind? Unless my boys fight, they will never be trusted, never be treated as real Americans. She peered into the mirror and rubbed her cheeks. Tommy must not sense my conflicted thoughts. This is his day. A day he had hoped for. A day Kenta and Taka hoped for. A day their father understood. Haru wiped away a tear. They are standing up for America. I am proud of them.
Jaw set firmly, she stepped out of the bathroom and returned downstairs.
To be continued …