It is not easy being an American of Japanese descent in Hawaii in 1941. Sixteen-year-old Eddy Okubo has been raised as an American, and his hopes and dreams are very different from those of his parents. His father, a boat builder who came from Japan twenty years earlier, still clings to elements of his Japanese culture and wants his sons to return to his homeland to learn its traditions. Eddy, however, wants to join the army like his best friends, Chik and Cobra, who are both eighteen and have just been drafted, but his father would be devastated if he did.
Eddy's father has just finished work on the Red Hibiscus, a custom-built sampan for a "haole" customer. On the night before it is to be turned over to its new owner, the boat is destroyed by fire. It is the second incident involving the burning of a Japanese boat under suspicious circumstances within a year. Eddy is angry, but his father responds with the typical stoicism inherent in his culture. Accepting without question that "it can't be helped," Pop salvages what he can and begins to rebuild the boat so that he can keep his commitment to his American customer.
It is true that Eddy wants to be with Chik and Cobra, and that his wages will help his family financially, but it is the injustice of the destruction of his father's boat that drives him to alter his birth certificate so that he can enlist in the army. Eddy's main reason for taking such a drastic step is to prove that he is an American and not part of a "Japanese problem." Mr. Okubo has long had other plans for his eldest offspring, however, and when Eddy tells him what he has done, he initially stops speaking to him. As far as Mr. Okubo is concerned, his son no longer exists.
Eddy begins basic training on the island, and during his first weekend pass to visit his family, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Mr. Okubo is crushed by the cowardly behavior of his home country and brokenly tells his son:
You go...back army...No make shame for this family. Fight for your country. Die, even, but die with honor.
In the chaos following the onset of the attack, Eddy, Chik, and Cobra persuade a haole to take them back to their base at Schofield Barracks; they must work hard to convince the white man that they are not the enemy. The "island boys" are anxious to do their part, but are left waiting at their tents while the soldiers...
(The entire section is 2701 words.)
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