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 49 continued)
Pence paused to let the men think about what he had just said. The rumble of a slow-moving truck could be heard outside the closed doors. When it stopped, Pence continued speaking, dialing his face to his good-news mode.
“You men have been selected for the regiment’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.” The noise blast of a cannon firing a blank shell shook the wooden building. Many of the men jumped. Shock morphed into a sheepish “you got me” expression as soon as the men could make the facial switch. A bugler blew the cavalry charge. Soldiers opened the doors where a smoking 105 mm howitzer greeted them.
“Go outside. Take a look,” Pence ordered.
Kenta, sitting in the back, rushed out to reach the khaki-green-colored cannon first. He caressed the base of the barrel. The new wide-eyed 522nd soldiers circled the weapon, almost like one would do viewing a relic of an ancient saint’s skull. Kenta walked under the tip of the barrel so he could see the three metal plates, all bolted together, shielding the lower front of the howitzer to provide bullet and shrapnel protection to the men behind the barrier. He knew enough about machinery to understand that the cast-iron metal trough under the barrel had plenty of extra length to handle recoil. He surmised that the three ten-inch steering wheels attached at different positions along the barrel handled the sighting. He dropped back and bumped into Short Pants.
“All those days at Schofield where we saw these things …” said Kenta. “When we signed up for the infantry, it never occurred to me that I would be working with one of them.”
“Back to your seats,” barked the sergeant into the microphone. The sound of his command voice left little doubt that he meant right now.
On the platform, an officer stood beside Pence at the microphone. He equaled the colonel in height, but that’s where the similarity ended. No one would call his back ramrod straight. His full face and not-quite-trim waist provided another hint that he, like most officers at the lieutenant colonel rank and below, had been a civilian on Dec. 7, 1941. But it would be nondescript men like him who would win the war.
Pence introduced Lieutenant Colonel Baya Harrison, who, until recently, practiced law in Tampa, Florida. Harrison stepped up to the mic to make a speech in front of the largest audience he had ever faced.
“I’m a Florida cracker,” he said in a drawl to the men of the 522nd who were puzzled by this term they had never heard before. “I can tell you a lot more about good Tampa cigars and refried beans than artillery shells. We have ourselves a mighty fine weapon here; in fact, we will soon have a dozen of those little monsters, making us the only regiment in the whole U.S. Army with our own artillery battalion.
“A 105 mm howitzer is so named because the diameter of the shell is a 105 millimeters, or just over four fat inches. In a pinch, you can send off 10 rounds in a minute, and, with a range of up to seven miles, it can bust up a Panzer attack.
“This is a breech-loading weapon … better than a muzzle-loading cannon where you just drop the ammo in the mouth of the tube and stand back. The 105 resembles a naval gun. You lift the shell knee-high and load it at the rear of the barrel, or the breech. Got it? Breech-loading.
“When muzzle-loading, you stand in front of the cannon where the enemy can shoot you. In breech-loading, you stand behind your weapon’s metal plate. Breech-loading is quick. With a muzzleloader, you must load the projectile and its separate charge into the top of the tube. With our 105, you just shove the projectile into the breech. As you step back, the gunner yanks a short cord called a ‘lanyard,’ which ignites the primer. The primer then ignites the charge at the end of the rocket, sending it on its flight.
“This is an air-cooled cannon, but in rapid fire, I’d keep a bucket of water handy. The recoil is slowed down by a constant hydropneumatic shock absorber.
“Each of you has been assigned to either a gun battery consisting of four howitzers and 130 men, a headquarters battery of a 170 men that chooses targets or a service battalion of 80 to keep the cannon stocked with ammo. We’ll have a medical detachment of three doctors and 13 medics. A 10-man officer corps will make up my leadership unit.”
Harrison checked the three-by-five card in his hand. “Together we will learn to support our infantry. We are a motorized unit. A truck tows the howitzer. You will ride in flatbeds. On Monday, you will be taken to the firing range and see these babies in action. In the meantime, I am happy to issue my first order as your commander. Your sergeant is authorized to give everyone a weekend pass.”
Garrison caps shot into the air like graduation at West Point. Doi collected the pass forms from the master sergeant. He then called out his men by name, signed their pass and handed it to them. When everyone but Kenta had his pass, Doi turned to the men.
“I need to talk to Private Takayama.”
To be continued …