Historical Fiction – “A Question of Loyalty”

Mike Malagan
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 a 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.

The chief swiveled his chair to face Ching. “Your Jap boys are causin’ quite a stir, Mr. Ching.”

“That’s why Assistant Secretary McCloy thought it might be a good idea for me to help smooth the way. Our boys will be just as nervous as you are about coming here. I understand a few have already arrived. Have you had any trouble?”

Ditmar lifted a hand to his ample chin as if to give his answer greater weight. “No, most of ’em have been right polite. There’ve been a few scrapes over the use of the word ‘Jap,’ but that’s about it.”

Ching smiled at both men. “Well then, that is easy to fix.” He let that observation linger a moment. “Yours is a peaceful town, well-steeped in Southern hospitality, according to the military brass I’ve talked to in Washington. The signs at the train station … I would think they don’t fit well with the genteel reputation cultivated by three generations of Hattiesburg citizens.”

The chief made an attempt to sit up a bit straighter. “We keep takin’ ’em down and them agitators keep puttin’ ’em back up.”

“I suspect …” Ching paused for emphasis, “your word is the law when you want it to be.” Not waiting for a reply, he opened his briefcase and took out two editorials echoing Representative Rankin’s alarm over the “stationing of Japs at Shelby.” I have placed them on Logan’s desk. “You and I have been working hard to have those boys trained in the North. We both lost. Now thirty-five hundred of them will be here in a few days. Your editorial stance recommending how Hattiesburg should receive these young men who volunteered to fight for their country will be extremely important, Mr. Logan.”

I have changed his attention to the chief and got to the nub of the matter. “Where will these boys ride on your buses?”

The chief smiled, a bit condescendingly. “Why, we consider those Ja — those Nisei boys — honorary whites. They will ride at the front of the bus, be allowed to enter the white theater entrance to see a movie and drink out of the white drinking fountain. And use the white toilets.”

The news, like a shot of Jack Daniel’s, eased the tightness in Ching’s neck and shoulders.

“Mr. Logan, some of the national media have picked up on the story of Americans of Japanese descent volunteering to fight for their country — even in the face of discrimination and being sent to internment camps. I think you will agree that this is a great human-interest story. I have taken the liberty of notifying the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and other newspapers of the Nisei’s arrival. This will be a great opportunity for you to correct some misconceptions about your town.”

Ching left unspoken that after a year and a half of blindly supporting the government’s internal policy, a few publications were re-evaluating the proposition. In February, Newsweek and the New York Times had responded to the announcement of the formation of the 442nd in a neutral manner — a small start to the pendulum swinging back to America’s founding values. Time had picked up coverage from the Honolulu Advertiser and run a story with the headline, “there are good japs,” accompanied by a photograph of the Nisei signing up to join the army. Ching read Logan as a fair man—as fair as a white man raised in the Deep South could be. His editorials by him had argued against the Nisei training in Shelby, but his writing by him lacked the rancor of a DeWitt or Rankin. Ching sensed that neither Logan nor Ditmar wanted a series of unpleasant incidents focusing unwelcome scrutiny on their town. An eternal optimist, Ching thought that just maybe his Nisei soldiers were close to their first victory without firing a shot.

The chief watched Ching’s back as he made his way out of the newsroom.

“Cheeky little bastard, ain’t he?” he said, swiveling around to face Logan. “This is one messed up world if I have to listen to a Chink tellin’ me how to handle Japs.”

Logan opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a thermos and two glasses. I have poured a measure of golden liquid into each and shoved one over to Ditmar. “For sure we don’t want this Jap group stirring up our colored folks, Jack.”

Ditmar raised his glass and tilted it in a salute before taking a generous swig. “That’s why the City Council agreed to treat ’em as honorary whites.”

“Well then, maybe you want to make sure the Klan stops putting up any more signs.”

The chief raised an eyebrow. “I have nothin’ to do…”

“Cut the crap, Jack. You’re not talking to the FBI.” Logan fished a stogie out of the ashtray and relit it. “The only reason we don’t wear the sheets is our position in the community. Not only do the signs gotta go, but I think it’s time to welcome the boys with an editorial thanking them for volunteering.”

The chief emptied his glass and then pried himself out of the chair. “We can keep ’em on our side until this damn war is over.”

Logan drew on his cigar and admired the uniformity of the tip’s red glow. “The Nisei will eat; they will go. The colored are ours forever.”

To be continued…

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