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 47 continued)
Forte used the tip of Pence’s cigarette to light his own before continuing. “The Hawai‘i boys have been fixing leaks, resetting doors, painting – basically fixing everything that’s not right. Lots of them were raised on plantations, where they learned to be handy with tools.” He handed Pence back his Lucky, then put his own cigarette to his lips, drawing it in thoughtfully, then slowly exhaling. “But you can see the downside to all this repair frenzy.”
Pence lifted his coffee cup to take another gulp. Empty. He instinctively glanced at the coffee urn, then thought better of it and put the cup back down. Instead, he took a drag of his cigarette before settling into his chair.
“We invested three months into developing confident officers … and then their men show them up on their first day.”
“Yes, sir. The Hawai‘i boys have no idea that the Mainlanders left families living in conditions worse than the hutments.”
“Good job, Sergeant,” said Pence in a send-off voice. Then he quickly raised a hand, waggling his index finger. “Oh! Did you find your medics?”
“Too many. There are 27 pre-med students among the Hawai‘i recruits and double that number with hospital experience. I turned the files over to the doctors. Let them pick and choose. I also found out that the Records Department finished tabulating the intelligence and aptitude tests the Hawai‘i boys took at Schofield just before they shipped out. The average IQ is 121. Almost all are high school graduates, and more than half have at least some college education. I bet we have more college graduates among our regiment’s enlisted men than all of Mark Clark’s Fifth Army.”
Pence had been reviewing the 442nd personnel files since the regiment arrived a week earlier and knew his command was comprised of the most intelligent and best-educated regiment in the history of the U.S. Army.
Forte drifted over to the side table where the coffee urn sat. He filled a mug about one-fourth full. “Half come from plantations. They speak a Pidgin English that is less understandable than Cajun. Yet their written tests are the King’s English. How can that be?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“I saw some of that when I was stationed in China and visited the Japanese concession in Port Arthur. The Chinaman, Hung Wai Ching, confirmed my reasoning when he visited here. The Japanese mothers are fanatical about their kids’ education, especially their sons. Those boys are raised believing they will go to the university.”
Forte tipped his cup to finish the small jolt he had poured himself. “Will that be all, sir?”
(Chapter 48: June 4, 1943)
In the six weeks since the 442nd arrived, migrating Canadian geese had begun clouding the skies. As the weather warmed, a more menacing airborne traveler rose from Camp Shelby’s marshes. Regular DDT spraying kept the mosquitoes down to a mere nuisance level within the camp, but morning marches seemed timed to match the breakfast habits of the ravenous droves of bloodsuckers lurking outside the spray zone.
Yesterday, the ever-vigilant Sergeant Doi had led the squad on its first 25-mile hike with a full backpack. This morning, they had slithered hundreds of yards under live ammunition, navigated an obstacle course and stabbed stationary sacks with their bayonets. After lunch, they were trucked to the rifle range. Doi’s disappointment with the Hawai‘i boys’ expert marksmanship – due to their pig-hunting forays back home in the islands – showed through his grim composure.
As soon as Kenta returned to his hutment, he high-tailed it to the communal shower. The Hawai‘i boys, used to swimming in the buff at isolated beaches and river spots and even in plantation irrigation ditches, walked naked to the showers with their towels slung over their shoulders. The more reserved mainlanders draped their towels over an arm strategically pressed against their stomach.
Oh, for those wonderful, brisk days of early April when freezing their asses off seemed the worst weather the recruits could endure. Short Pants sat on a log adjacent to a creek during a break on another Doi-led hike. He pushed and pressed the skin around his ankle.
“Another chigger!” He interrupted his squeezing to move his arms like fans about to bust loose from the ceiling. “I swear the chiggers got a deal going with these swamp mosquitoes. They wait till you’re getting rid of the chigger and zoom in like a bunch of Zeros.” He kicked the ground. “You’d think with all the snakes around here they’d eat the insects. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? And the humidity …”
“We got it,” said Doi, who had acted almost human during the march, maybe because he fretted that his tough Islanders would handle the endurance challenge better than he would. He let a weary smile creep into his voice. “Let’s saddle up, Buddhaheads.” No one, not even Short Pants, had complained about the hike. After all, that’s what the army did. Hike.
“But why,” asked Short Pants, “are the Washington no-nothings training us in a swamp if we’re going to Europe?”
Doi poked Short Pants’s shoulder. “Good news, we’re going to outrun the mosquitoes.” He regarded the rest of the squad as he put on his light backpack. “It’s only six miles to home, men. Let’s do it in double time.”
Chuckles capped his canteen, forcing a laugh before he offered an exaggerated, “Thank you, Sergeant Kotonk.”
The good-natured exchange of slurs, much like friendly Italian and Irish brothers-in-law might greet each other as “Mick” and “Wop,” camouflaged the tenuous camaraderie of Doi and his men. The relationship between the Hawai‘i soldiers and the
Mainlanders had deteriorated with each passing day. A week after arriving, a Manzanar recruit, listening to a Hawai‘i recruit’s Pidgin English snickered “Buddhahead,” a clever amalgam of buta, meaning pig in Japanese, and Buddha, whose religion most Mainland Nisei had dropped, unlike their counterparts from Hawai‘i. In the melee that followed, the rough-and-tumble Hawai‘i Nisei beat up the less pugnacious Mainlanders. When one of the Mainlanders hit the ground hard, a Maui boy had shouted, “Kotonk!” Hawaiian slang for the sound a falling coconut makes when it hits the ground. By the end of mess that evening, the 442nd’s vocabulary had been universally enriched by the two newly minted pejoratives.
Doi’s squad – or Kenta’s squad as the men under Doi still thought of themselves – broke into a trot of a 180 paces a minute rather than the normal hiking pace of around 120 beats, a spacing and pace
designed for men with an average height of 5-feet-8 inches. Most of the Hawai‘i boys were shorter, many hardly breaking five feet. They had to stretch further and move their legs faster to make up the difference. But they did so without complaint; to do otherwise would suggest that they were not as tough as the white soldiers.
To be continued …