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.
(Chapter 45 continued)
Doi’s tough-guy attitude could be seen as ironic, given his own military experience. He had been drafted before Pearl Harbor. Despite his college background and excellent Army test results, he, like all the Nisei, never saw the inside of an Army specialty school. After December 7, 1941, the army confiscated his rifle and instead handed him a shovel and a potato peeler. Serving on active duty was of no help to his parents, who were sent away to an internment camp. Doi considered going AWOL, but accepted his humiliated status, too shocked to protest.
That all changed in December 1942. The Army assigned Doi and a chorus of Nisei soldiers collected from scattered units to Camp Shelby. No one told him why, but he got his rifle back. He took part in drills during the day, and at night, he hammered, caulked and painted the prefab hutments. Without any plumbers, he dug narrow-slit trenches that the men could squat over. When Doi asked why the Nisei had to do these jobs, he discovered the joys of latrine duty. He seethed as he shoveled shit into wheelbarrows, then pushed the wheelbarrow outside the housing area where he dug a deep pit and emptied the shit into the hole. Then he shoveled the dirt he had just dug up back over the hole. He pushed the fetid wheelbarrow to the tool shed and hosed it down.
The speculation over why they had been sent to Camp Shelby ended on January 28, 1943. At noon, the frustrated drill-and-paint Nisei were assembled to meet their permanent commanding officer, the newly arrived Colonel Pence. Blank faces greeted his introduction.
“The War Department has decided to create an all-Nisei combat regiment.” Pence paused to let his words sink in. He watched the puzzled look on the men’s faces. “You men have been chosen to be trained to provide the noncommissioned leadership for this volunteer unit. You are all being promoted, effective immediately, to sergeant.” A lone soldier clapped in the stunned silence, followed by a spontaneous crescendo of applause. Pence waited for the commotion to die down and then continued to address the men. “Many of you will be promoted again to staff sergeant or even sergeant first class by the time the volunteers arrive in early April.”
The cadre of drafted Nisei spent three months learning to be sergeants. Doi got the point about giving orders, expecting them to be obeyed without question and punishing any infraction. Upon graduation, two-thirds of the group received promotions to staff sergeant or sergeant first class. But not Sergeant Doi. He convinced himself that his performance had been just as good, but since he wasn’t an ass-kisser he hadn’t received a fair assessment. He’d show the brass that they had made a mistake. He couldn’t wait for the new recruits to arrive; twelve of them would be his to whip into shape. Someone else could shovel the shit.
One might expect the new sergeants – who had been subject to prejudice in the army and whose family members were incarcerated because of their ethnicity – would be empathetic to their own kind. And some were. Others, like Sergeant Doi, could not make the connection. In his mind, underlings needed to be put in their place. Unpleasant duties could be fobbed off. Discovering rule infractions gave Doi bolts of euphoria and inflicting punishment for those infractions, particularly for lack of respect, afforded long moments of righteous satisfaction and assuaged fears of inadequacy.
The two approaches to leadership could be seen in Doi’s response to a directive put out the day after the Nisei arrived. The quartermaster, who slept in warm quarters, ordered that all comforters be returned to the supply room since, according to the army manual, cold weather had ceased. Some sergeants found a way to keep the comforters a little longer, reasoning that it would take a few days for the supply personnel to track down four thousand comforters.
Not Sergeant Doi. He marched his men, comforter in hand, to the supply unit within hours of receiving the directive. That night, he alternated between being angry at other sergeants who had ignored the order, and berating himself as he shivered in bed, for being a damn fool and complying so promptly.
Sergeant Doi’s alarm clock clanged fifteen minutes before the bugle played reveille. The first-up tactic buttressed Doi’s strategy to land those unjustly denied staff sergeant’s stripes.
“What the hell?” complained usually quiet Harry Nakata. “Who’s the dumbo who set off the alarm?”
“That remark will cost you an extra day of latrine duty, soldier,” said Doi, proud of his swift response to the day’s first challenge to his authority.
“Aw man, that ain’t fair,” said Harry.
“You want fair, you should have stayed in Hawai‘i planting pineapples. Your bitching just earned you another day of shoveling poop.” Doi grabbed his clipboard hanging on a nail over his bed and made two ticks with the pencil attached to the board with a string.
Kenta threw aside his light blankets and stuffed duffel bag he had used as a comforter and arose to meet the coldest morning of his life. He surveyed his new home, which was definitely not up to VVV standards. The glow of hanging light bulbs revealed haphazard carpentry. Cold air seeped through air slits between the uneven pine boards – the window latches did not fit tight and nails were not pounded flush against the wood.
Doi stomped his feet on the floor. “All right ladies, time to boogie. We start with a ten-mile run and then breakfast.” Wearing a Cheshire Cat smile, he mulled over a suitable punishment for slackers. He bristled that the entire squad had helped Chuckles clean out the latrine after dinner the night before. While he admitted that the trench now had deeper-cut walls and a more firmly tamped rim, he dreamed up scenarios in which he demanded two hundred push-ups from his too-clever pineapple squad for challenging his authority. He opened the door and started jogging.
Kenta knew they couldn’t all leave in their current state of dress and was certain that Doi had planned it that way so he could dole out a fresh punishment to the stragglers.
“Short Pants, you’re ready. Get going. We will leave one at a time, as we each get dressed. Just make sure one of us always leaves in time to see the person in front. When the last guy leaves, we will all catch up to our luna,” using the Hawaiian term for hated Portuguese plantation overseers.
If Sergeant Doi thought he could run his charges into the ground, he was sadly mistaken. His squad had toughened up during their year of construction work as the VVV. No matter how fast Doi ran the Hawai‘i boys kept up with him, sensing his run-them-into-the-ground objective. The men had a more difficult time keeping up than their outwardly effortless pace revealed. They each worried that they would be the one who breathed loud or developed a cramp. A few paces behind Doi, Kenta smiled through the pain as he noticed the sergeant’s back expanding and contracting rapidly, making room for larger gasps of air.
To be continued …