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.
CONTENT WARNING: The story below contains the use of strong language.
Chapter 55 continued…
Kenta followed him, suppressing a smile.
Doi’s face had turned an unattractive shade of burgundy. His neck muscles coiled as taut as Apache bow strings and his lips were pulled back from his teeth like a bulldog ready to bite. He whirled around to confront Kenta.
As Doi snarled his threat, Kenta smelled the vile stench of his breath.
“Before you go bragging to your Buddhahead buddies about how you beat being tossed in the brig, you’d better think about what your life will be like shoveling poop and doing push-ups, because I will press forward with charges at regimental HQ.”
He spat out the entire sentence without taking a breath, the last words barely more than angry gasps. He balled his fists and then turned and stormed away.
Kenta had no intention of bragging. He’d been caught. The snake in his belly rumbled. His heart thumped. Why couldn’t I have just stayed back and read my Kennedy book instead of sneaking off base? I wouldn’t be on report for being AWOL. I wouldn’t have betrayed Angelina. I wouldn’t have been on the bus. I wouldn’t have that little kotonk turd dedicating his worthless life to thinking up ways to get back at me … not just because he couldn’t throw my ass in the brig, but for being shown up by a haole officer with me watching.
It was a long walk to his hutment, but Kenta knew he needed to cool off, to think. Revenge dominated his thoughts. He envisioned himself pounding Doi into a bloody pulp. Visualized Doi begging for mercy as Kenta landed another blow to his face. Satisfying, but the consequence of a few years in the brig wasn’t appealing. After his third imaginary thrashing of his tormenter, Kenta’s face brightened. The answer! Yes! He shouted, at the top of his lungs, ignoring the amused passersby. He broke into a trot, then a run. It was important to get back to the guys — his guys — before Doi.
Back at the hutment, an out of breath Kenta could hardly contain himself while revealing his plan. The perfect plan. Chuckles tossed a playful punch at Kenta’s shoulder. “Now that is a stealth plan that is fun and gives us military practice. The only question is: Will the message get through?”
While Doi’s squad feigned deep sleep that night, marauders raided Hutment 714. They taped Doi’s mouth, tied up his legs and jammed a pillowcase over his head. They hoisted him out of his bed and carried him outside, where they pummeled him with fists and soccer kicks for a long minute before fleeing. Hearing the ruckus outside, Doi’s sleepy-eyed squad crowded the doorway yelling, “What’s happening?” “Who’s out there?” They struggled to restrain their urge to laugh as Doi moaned and tried to right himself. Then they ran to his rescue.
Once untied, Doi ripped the tape from his mouth. “Ouch!” he screamed, then glared at his men accusingly. “Where were you guys?”
“Right here … sir,” said Short Pants. “We were awakened by a whole lotta commotion just outside our door. Thank God we woke up in time to save you … sir.” A chorus of men added their own “me, too.” But nothing could placate the sergeant.
Kenta noticed blood dripping from Doi’s forehead.
“Somebody get a clean T-shirt,” he called out. Kenta got down on one knee to examine the cut. “You might need some stitches, Sergeant. And the way you’re holding your side … you’d better get checked for a broken rib.”
Doi later learned that he was one of five sergeants who had been taken to the hospital that night with a similar story. Old-time sergeants knew there would be at least another five in the days to come. The men whose sergeants were beaten up owed a favor to the messengers. Three nights later, Little Caesar, Kenta, Chad, and No Ticket got up after midnight to visit the latrine. Forty-five minutes later, they returned after completing their side of the bargain.
“My last risky adventure,” Kenta swore to himself. He felt like he had slid under a tag at home plate twice. He had snuck out of his hutment at midnight without waking Doi, and he had commandeered a bus without being arrested or charged. From here on out, he vowed to avoid being the nail that stuck out.
Two days later, Master Sergeant Forte briefed Colonel Pence on the latest sergeant attacks and on the scraps between the Hawai‘i Buddhaheads and the Mainland kotonks. Then, Pence turned his attention to his huge wall map.
Forte picked up the cue. “The Allies are starting to win.”
Keeping his eyes focused on the map, Pence answered, “We are losing our internal war, Sergeant. I don’t want to have to close down this Nisei experiment.”
Before Forte could respond, an orderly stuck his head through the door. “Sir, that Korean lieutenant is here.”
“Good, send him in.” “Stay,” he said to Forte in a lower voice. “Turner agreed to transfer Kim to us until the 100th deploys to Africa in late summer.”
Forte trained his eyes on the map with blue and red pins. “Africa? Is that official?”
“Grapevine official,” said Pence. “When Ike turned us down, Clark told Marshall he could use all the men he could get.”
The orderly returned with the Korean lieutenant who brandished a smart salute.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” said Pence. “Colonel Turner thinks our 522nd Field Artillery Battalion can use some of your team-building magic.”
Kim fought to keep his pleasure from showing. “Perhaps the colonel is aware of the artillery training I received shortly after finishing basic OCS,” said Kim, referring to his Officer Candidate School experience. “As the only regiment to have its own artillery, we have a tremendous advantage. We never have to ask for a share of the division’s artillery.”
“The advantage only works if we meld infantry and artillery seamlessly,” added Pence.
“We can do that, sir,” said Kim in a quiet voice that radiated confidence. “The 522nd drew together exceptional men—the makings of an elite unit.”
The early sun busied itself turning the dew on the trees and shrubs surrounding Camp Shelby’s barracks into haze, and then humidity. Chad and No Ticket argued whether the snake they found under the doorstep presented a threat as a deadly coral or was a harmless grass snake. They followed the well-worn dictum: When in doubt, stick it with a bayonet. Ignoring the snake murder, Short Pants slathered indalo all over, on his neck, face, arms, trying out the newest Army concoction to repel mosquitoes.
At 8:00 a.m. sharp, the first of a fleet of trucks arrived at the hutments to transport six hundred fifty soon-to-be cannoneers to the firing range. The lead truck held Lieutenant Kim, who made sure he got on last.
“This sure beats walking,” said Chuckles, climbing in.
Short Pants shared his wisdom. “Who would have thought that fixing tractors, building culverts at Schofield and doing our trig homework would mean we’d get a pass on digging foxholes?”
First stop, the target zone, was eight miles behind the howitzers. Squads tramped and milled around the site like packs of eager tourists at the Gettysburg battle site during the first week in July. Kenta turned to Kim as the truck rolled to a stop. He swatted at a fly dive-bombing his ear.
“I guess we lucked out. Firing guns behind the lines is a better deal than being at the front.”
Kim opened his canteen and surveyed the eyes of the squad in the back of the flatbed. He took a swallow before twisting the cap back on and then began speaking at a deliberate cadence. “If we learn to do our jobs right, we save the lives of our men on the front line. That’s the mission.” He waited for his words to sink in.
To be continued …