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 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.
As soon as the photographer left the room, Harry Hopkins coughed and stubbed out his cigarette. “The president is under enormous pressure, Mr. Ching. We are both aware that so far not a single rumor of sabotage has been verified. But you can imagine the uproar if even one such event occurred. It would open up the president to charges that he failed in his duty to protect the country. Civil rights simply have to take a back seat when the very existence of our nation is under attack in both Europe and the Pacific.”
Ching remained impassive, fighting the urge to offer a counter argument on civil rights. He simply held Hopkins’s gaze, noting how the other man’s pale, narrow face made him appear ill, despite his strong voice.
Hopkins lit another cigarette with a gold-plated lighter. “Mr. Ching, are you aware of the Japanese spy ring on the West Coast?” His cold eyes challenged Ching.
The expression on Ching’s face said he did not.
“In 1940, the Japanese consul in San Francisco began recruiting local Japanese as spies. The consul gathered intelligence from Japanese agents standing on hills commanding a bird’s-eye view of the San Diego Naval Station. Other spies sent reports regarding factories, port facilities, military installations and utility locations from Seattle to the Mexican border. We found no evidence of planned sabotage, but that doesn’t mean there were no plans. And in war, behind-the-lines information is often as important as an aircraft carrier.”
“I had no idea,” said Ching.
“No reason you should have. In Hawai‘i, only Shivers and Emmons had the need to know. The spies were picked up and interrogated. No doubt the Japanese guessed they had a leak that led to the arrests,” said Hopkins, even though he knew Japanese message codes had been broken months before war broke out.
“You haven’t mentioned Hawai‘i,” said Ching.
“If we had found a single spy in Hawai‘i, all the Japanese would have been evacuated,” said the president. “I still think they should have been, but I’ve let Emmons drag his feet.”
Hopkins sat back. “In Hawai‘i, the Japanese consul apparently felt no need to recruit spies. With all of our ships berthed in one harbor, he could drive up just about any hill that affords a view of Pearl and count the ships.”
“And maybe he feared approaching any local Japanese, knowing he would learn that their loyalty lay with America,” said Ching. Behind him, the sound of a female voice startled him. He had not heard the door open.
“Mr. President, Milton has arrived for your meeting,” said Grace Tully.
Ching recognized the dismissal and rose to leave.
“You are doing good work, Mr. Ching,” said the president. “I am not unaware of the contributions your Morale Committee has made to the war effort. I am sure the Nisei will acquit themselves well in Europe.”
“Thank you, Mr. President.”
Ching followed Grace Tully out the door. As she escorted him, he nodded to the man who passed him. Ching recognized him as Milton Eisenhower, the director of the War Relocation Authority. Eisenhower was in charge of the ten internment camps holding the uprooted West Coast Japanese. Ching wondered if the chance passing had been inadvertent or a contrived warning of the yet-undetermined fate of Japanese residents in Hawai‘i. He decided to report to Emmons and Hemenway that his meeting with the president and Hopkins had been de facto recognition of the status quo. He knew about FDR’s penchant for sloughing off the delivery of bad news to his staff, saving the good news to announce himself.
That evening, the phone rang as Joseph Farrington twisted a corkscrew into the cork of a bottle of wine. Farrington picked it up on the third ring while pointing to the corkscrew stuck in the bottle of merlot. Ching took over as sommelier.
“No interruption at all, Mr. McCloy.” While Farrington listened, his face rounded into a wide smile. Ching suspended his screw twisting. “Why, yes, that is very good news, welcome and unexpected.”
Seconds later, following a warm “Good night,” Farrington dropped his hands, palms out. “You never know the consequences of not giving up. McCloy is sending his personal aide to Hattiesburg tomorrow to let the brass know Mrs. Roosevelt expects ‘her Nisei’ to be treated like any other American soldier. And,” Farrington’s smile broadened, “McCloy has arranged for a special rail pass for you from here to Hattiesburg.”
Merlot had never tasted so smooth.
With the expedited rail pass, Ching left the next morning so he would arrive in Hattiesburg a couple of days before the 442nd. He knew that the 100th Battalion had been in Camp Shelby since February, but discovered that another cadre of Mainland Nisei soldiers had preceded them. These soldiers, drafted before Pearl Harbor, were culled from their scattered units and drawn to Camp Shelby to be trained as noncom officers for the 442nd. By day, they carried out their military drills. By night, they worked as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and latrine diggers to prepare the barracks for their incoming charges.
A fourth group of Nisei had also begun straggling into Hattiesburg. These eight hundred volunteers from the ten internment camps would be melded into the 442nd. There were no rousing bands or patriotic parades to send them off. Most had slunk away in predawn hours to avoid confrontations with those who called them traitors for fighting for a country that had imprisoned them and their parents.
To be continued …