A Japanese midget submarine is hiding on the muddy bottom of Pearl Harbor, waiting to release its deadly twin warheads against the battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet. Drenched in sweat, the sub’s commander and engineer sleep restlessly in their coffin-like surroundings.
Awakened by the shock waves of aerial bomb and torpedo strikes, they jump to the controls and target the battleships West Virginia and Oklahoma. One of their torpedoes rips a 36-foot hole through the Oklahoma’s port side, causing her to roll over, trapping many sailors below deck.
Several crewmembers nervously remain at their aft-steering battle stations, deep within the slightly listing Oklahoma, when a powerful explosion from somewhere forward reverberates through the vessel. The once-mighty battleship begins to roll over, the sailors walking in place as it does so. Trapped, they find themselves standing on the ceiling in complete darkness, their fate revealed in a later chapter.
The Japanese midget sub commander raises his periscope and watches sailors jumping for their lives over the railings of the Oklahoma. Only moments earlier, the midget submariners had been exuberant with success, but witnessing the devastation renders them silent as they grimly contemplate the death and mayhem they have wrought.
Many decades later, in Kailua, Oahu, a pair of laid-back Hawaiians excavate a private pool and are shocked when they unearth a skeleton. Their surprise quickly gives way to happiness because the day’s work is over, allowing them to go fishing. The homeowner, a local favorite known as “Auntie Lee,” impatiently waits for the police to arrive. She is terrified her pool won’t be completed in time for her grandson’s high school graduation.
After a cursory examination of various items buried with the skeleton, a pair of local detectives decide they relate to the Imperial Japanese Navy of World War II and turn the case over to the United States Navy. The Navy assigns an elite team to assume responsibility for the investigation and find answers to the troubling questions created by the unearthed skeleton.
The Navy team is based at Pearl Harbor. It consists of Lt. Commander Christopher Pastwa, his donut-loving aide, Mike Clarke, half Japanese, half Hawaiian, 1st Lieutenant Ania Yamura, and half Chinese, half Black American, Lieutenant (j.g.) Stephanie Ferguson. Pastwa reports directly to his challenging and intuitive boss, third-generation Navy Rear Admiral Roman Reardon.
To their shock, a logbook recovered with the skeletal remains reveals the commander of the midget sub was still alive and living amongst the Japanese/American population days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Pastwa immediately recognizes he’s facing a trail of loose ends that span more than 75 years and energetically commences an exhausting, stressful, and, at times, frenetic investigation. Pastwa is under orders should he discover the midget submariner is still alive, he will arrest and detain him for deportation.
Lani Gale, an unscrupulous Honolulu newspaper reporter, obtains a pilfered copy of the Navy’s files and publishes a series of embarrassing Front-Page stories offering a $100,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the Japanese midget sub commander or his death certificate. Her stories springboard a competition between Pastwa’s team and Gale as each strives to be the first to solve what has become a very public mystery.
Ken Kida, a retired Oahu businessman, and his Korean wife, Sun, anxiously read Gale’s Front Page story when their grandson Gary arrives for breakfast. Sun is the only person who knows Ken is, in fact, the commander of the Japanese midget sub responsible for sinking the Oklahoma. Suspecting he may soon be arrested, they decide it’s time for Ken to relate his “prior life” story to Gary rather than read about his grandfather in the newspaper.
With Kida’s introduction, three storylines begin parallel courses; the progress of the Navy Team, Lani Gale’s public pursuit, and Kida’s. Through flashbacks, Kida relates his past life to his Annapolis-bound grandson, Gary.
Ken begins his story as a youth in 1930s Japan when an uncle takes him to see an American League Baseball All-Star team in Tokyo. He progresses through graduation from the Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima and his training in midget submarines, the Pearl Harbor attack, and various post-attack events on Oahu culminating with Ken obtaining a new identity, making it possible for him to meld into the Japanese/American population.
Ken’s experiences include internment as a Japanese/American and being escorted, under gunpoint, into confinement. He describes witnessing families ripped apart, not just from one another but also from their livelihoods and even their pets, resulting from the hysterical and prejudicial American response to the surprise attack.
When Ken finds himself in the cargo hold of a slow-moving freighter transporting hundreds of his fellow interns to California under deplorable conditions, he’s dumbfounded he can’t spur a mutiny. Though people are dying, the majority opinion is things will be better once they are “resettled” in California.
Following two years of captivity in California, an opportunity to change his life course presents itself. Ken Kida, son of a Samurai, does as any Samurai would do and ‘adopts the battlefield of another’ by joining the Japanese-American Nisei brigade with the assurance he’ll be fighting the Germans.
Instead, Ken is assigned to a U.S. Army intelligence division, promoted to sergeant, and shipped to Burma to liaise with the Chinese military. His subsequent battlefield heroics earn him a Purple Heart, a field commission to Lieutenant, and a medal from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek.
In May 1950, Ken’s activated from the Army reserves and sent to Seoul, South Korea. During a desperate rear-guard action, he’s promoted to Captain before suffering a severe injury, ending his military career. When he finishes relating his secret history to Gary, the separate storylines of Ken, the U.S. Navy Team, and the newspaper reporter fall into sync.
A confrontation between Ken and the navy team establishes the basis for a surprise ending. In one of the final scenes, the two main antagonists featured in subsequent novels of the “Commander Pastwa series,” Geographic Treachery and Vigorous Brutality, are introduced. The upcoming books are listed in the rear of the Author’s Biography section of my two most recently published works.
COPYRIGHT 2023 MARCUS A. NANNINI