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)
Kenta broke out of the pack to take his customary position behind Doi.
Doi seethed at this constant reminder of Kenta’s confidence. He vowed to assign Kenta another round of latrine duty. What would it take for that Buddhahead to make the connection between his assumption of leadership and shoveling poop? His anger rose another notch as he thought about the previous night.
“Men, we need to gather some wood for a fire and organize the food,” Doi ordered upon arriving at the campsite.
“Yes, sir,” Kenta replied and immediately began assigning individual tasks to the men. It was so effortless for Kenta. Doi watched, barely able to control his rage, knowing he couldn’t complain.
Within minutes, the wood had been gathered and a fire had been lit. Chuckles started dancing like an Indian medicine man, flapping his elbows and moving his neck back and forth like an ancient Egyptian chorus girl, yelling, “Pluck, pluck!” Even Doi had to laugh. Chuckles picked up his knapsack and raised it up to the sky. He let out an alley-oop whoop, reached inside and pulled out a live chicken.
Doi opened his mouth to object. Before he could spit out his words, however, applause and catcalls rose not only from his squad but from other nearby squads. Doi had no idea how to kill a chicken or pluck its feathers. He watched in amazement as Chad and Henry did what they had done since they were kids back in Hawai‘i.
With little need for communication, the Hawai‘i boys moved swiftly into action. Chad opened his Swiss Army knife and slit the chicken’s neck in one smooth stroke. He held the chicken out over the ground and let its blood drain. Short Pants cut two limbs from a nearby sapling – each one forming a “Y” shape – and stuck the pointed ends in the ground on either side of the fire. Fats foraged through the brush to find a slender, straight branch and set it horizontally in the crook of each Y. Henry then filled his helmet with water from his canteen and Chad’s and hung it by the chinstrap on the branch. When the water came to a boil, Chad dipped the chicken into the helmet in sections and easily plucked off its feathers. Henry chopped the defeathered body into eatable chunks and tossed them directly into the fire. Minutes later, a flurry of fast-as-a-magician hands snatched up the sizzling pieces and tossed them into waiting upturned helmets.
Doi thought they were nuts but had no problem eating his share or accepting the approbation of a captain who strolled over to congratulate Doi’s team on their ingenuity. Fuming inside, he vowed to find a way to impose his will on his squad.
The warming sun hadn’t yet reached its noon zenith when the men left the pine woods and quick-marched down the hutment subdivision’s dirt path toward their barracks. “Charge!” they shouted. Kenta stepped up the pace. “Remember Pearl Harbor!” he rang out. Sergeant Doi knew his lieutenant might congratulate him for bringing in his men with such a gung-ho spirit. But, once again, Kenta had taken over his squad, and with only three words: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
Doi might have excused his men’s excitement as a natural consequence of their hope for weekend passes. Not all at once, mind you. Wouldn’t want to overwhelm the sensitive citizens of Hattiesburg with an invasion of four thousand young, depraved Japanese men. The commotion, or lack thereof, in front of the hutments told the story of the winners and the losers. Short Pants sprinted ahead upon spotting an envelope nailed to the door of their hutment and took it down.
“It’s for you, Sergeant.”
Doi approached Short Pants at a measured pace, took the envelope and opened it so carefully that one might think he hoped to reuse it. His face turned into a question mark as he read it to himself. At that point he became aware of his expectant squad.
“We’ve been ordered to report to the mess hall at 4 p.m. in fresh uniforms. Everyone, except for Private Karatsu.”
“What about our passes?” asked Spud.
Doi waved the paper. “Nothing.”
When the squad arrived at the mess hall, they found that they weren’t the only ones who had been summoned. A couple hundred men were taking seats facing the front.
“Atten … shun!” A haole sergeant, his short hair the color of nickel and his face lined with history, stood rigid on the one-foot-high wooden platform. Everyone rose, assuming the position. Colonel Pence sauntered across the stage, his body language telling the men to relax. His first words into the stand-up microphone soothed the khaki-clad audience.
“At ease, men, and—” A high-pitched screech tore out of the sound system, cutting off Pence’s next few words. The soundman fiddled with the dials and then gave a hand signal to try again. The colonel tapped his fingers against the microphone. At the sound of the muffled pop, Pence resumed speaking.
“At ease, soldiers. Be seated.” His eyes roamed the room, making fleeting contact with everyone. When the only sounds came from the soft whirling of the overhead fans, he began.
“You men have made me proud to be your commander. When you run, you don’t drop out. When you tackle an obstacle course, you climb, you crawl, you slither … you do whatever it takes to get through in record time. The medics report the fewest visits from a unit this size in their memory. You came to prove your fitness to serve — and you have. Keep up the good work.”
His face grew stern. He added bite to his voice.
“However … my desk is littered with reports of fighting between Mainland soldiers and the soldiers from Hawai‘i. We are here to fight Germans, not each other.” He paused and let his eyes scan the room again, slower this time, but with a more intense gaze. “Do you understand?”
The men responded with a resounding, “Yes, sir!”
To be continued …