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September 12, 1962

The Arboretum at the University of California, Davis

A young woman sat under a shady oak along the banks of Putah Creek. It was her favorite spot, filled with natural beauty and a tranquility disturbed only by an occasional comic cacophony from the ever present ducks. But lately, even this place had brought her little happiness. She would have denied that she was heartbroken, at least in a literal sense, but it felt very much like she imagined heartbreak would feel.

With the start of her senior year a week away she had come here to refocus on botany. She was in no danger of flunking out to be sure, but graduate school positions would be very competitive. She opened her dog-eared copy of "Hawaiian Flowers & Flowering Trees" and tried to immerse herself in the world of tropical flora.

She heard footsteps approaching but didn’t glance up. While this spot was off the main pathways, the hundred or so acres of the arboretum attracted many visitors, as well as students. However, these footsteps stopped directly in front of her. Looking up, she locked eyes with a young man who had a friendly open smile. He was nice-looking with deep green eyes and appeared to be about her age.

"It’s Kuck," he exclaimed. "Imagine, Loraine Kuck."

Startled, the young woman started to correct his mistaken identity. "But, I’m not…" but stopped when she realized the stranger was pointing to her book.

"Loraine Kuck’s ‘Hawaiian Flowers & Flowering Trees’," he said. "See, here’s my copy." He held up an equally well-thumbed edition.

"Oh, I see," Laurie said. "You must be a tropical botany major too. I can’t recall ever seeing you in class."

"I’m transferring in for my senior year." He gestured expansively at the surrounding gardens. "It has to be a great place to study plants."

"It’s nice I suppose," she replied with no great enthusiasm.

"Mind if I join you?" he asked politely. "Maybe you could give me a little inside information. I don’t know a soul here."

She was tempted; he seemed friendly and something about him appealed to her. She simply wasn’t seeking a new relationship. She had just ridden an emotional roller coaster that had taken a toll.

"I’m sorry," she said. "I don’t mean to seem unfriendly, but I’m just not in the mood for company right now."

"I understand," he said. "I’m sure we’ll meet again sometime at school. Enjoy your time with ‘Loraine;’ she has certainly been good company for me." As he spoke, he was casually riffling through the pages of his book. A little green leaf fluttered out and landed squarely on the book in her lap.

She picked it up and examined it. "It’s a maile leaf," she said, more to herself than to him.

The young man was obviously at a loss. "I’m sorry; I have no idea where that came from or how it got in my book." He tucked the volume under his arm, as though afraid that it would produce more surprises.

The young woman knew where … and who it came from, and she knew exactly what it meant.

0400: 7 Dec., 1941 - Oahu

On the North Shore of Oahu at the Waialua Sugar Plantation a kerosene lantern flickered in a solitary window. Inside the small cabin the old woman couldn’t sleep. The dream had become more ominous each night. She sat in her rocker by the fireplace and tried to interpret her vision.

A substantial woman, her imposing figure was clad in a flowered muumuu. The warm glow of the lamp highlighted her long white hair against dark weathered skin. She had blue eyes, virtually unknown in pure-blooded Hawaiians, a people whose language has no word for "blue." Hers were uli like the deep ocean, not the paler polu of European eyes. They usually sparkled with good humor, but now they were dark and troubled.

Manalani was a kaula, a seer, and had dreams that foretold future events. These visions were shadowy, and their meaning often obscure but this portent was the darkest of all. She knew that great danger loomed, though its nature was unclear. She had to act.

She took the kerosene lamp and walked down the dirt road to the home of her great-nephew. As a luna (foreman) at the sugar mill, he had the use of a battered Model A open-cab truck. Despite the hour, she knocked without hesitation. She heard heavy footsteps within, and the door was thrown open. When her nephew’s sleepy eyes focused on her familiar face, anger became concern.

"What is it, Auntie?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"

She had no way to explain her foreboding to him. "I need you to take me into the city," she said simply, meaning Honolulu.

"But nothing will be open this early."

"Great danger comes with the sun. I must go now before the dawn."

He nodded and went back inside to dress, accustomed to her acting on things that could not be expressed with words.

Manalani extinguished the lantern and placed it in the back of the truck. She took her place on the hard bench front seat and waited patiently for his return.

He cranked the tiny four-cylinder engine, which coughed and sputtered reluctantly to life and gnashed metallic teeth, as though resentful of the hour. But like its driver, it dutifully acquiesced to the old woman’s wishes. With an almost stately lack of haste, the little brown truck traveled the deserted Kamehameha Highway through the central valley. Its dim headlamps reflected off the steel girders of a bridge and an occasional road sign.

 

0455: 230 miles north of Oahu

The menace that had disturbed Manalani’s sleep lay hidden by a gale. It was a far deadlier man-made storm, the mighty Japanese Kido Butai. The largest naval force ever assembled in the Pacific, it would unleash a maelstrom that would devour nations and empires along with millions of lives.

The weather that concealed the fleet also threatened to abort the attack. Admiral Nagumo and his anxious staff were discussing the situation on the flagship Akagi. The round windows on the bridge were awash in spray from heavy seas breaking over the bow. Even the veteran helmsman gripped the wheel to steady himself.

The airmen who would strike from the six aircraft carriers had not been awakened, but aboard the carrier Kaga, Yoshimi Okazaki, a young pilot, lay awake in his hammock. He longed to be like his Samurai ancestors in the stories his grandfather told. He swore to bring his family honor and greater status in their rural Kyūshū village. Newly trained, he hadn’t seen combat in China and held the lowest ranking among the swaggering elite who flew the A6M Type Zero fighter. Today, he would wield his aircraft like a katana sword and strike down the enemies of Japan.

He feared the gale which tossed the mighty Kaga might deny him his chance to kill the arrogant Yankees. He knew little of the outside world and had never met an American. He had been told they blocked Japan’s rightful destiny to dominate the Pacific. That made them the enemy of his emperor, and it was his duty to destroy them.

He took his Senninbari belt, made with a thousand stitches lovingly collected by his mother and sister from neighbors and passersby, and wrapped it around his waist.

 

0500: 250 miles west of Oahu

The USS Enterprise was steaming with her escorts back to Pearl Harbor. The storm front had passed, and normal flight operations were resuming. The aircraft were flown off the carrier from well out to sea, and the aviators all had awakened expecting to fly into Pearl Harbor this morning. However, the Enterprise, already behind schedule, had been further delayed by the foul weather. The distance was still too great, except for the long-range SBD Dauntless dive-bombers. The eighteen planes of Scouting Six squadron would fly a dawn patrol ahead of the ships before landing at Ford Island. The rest would follow by late afternoon.

Aviators filled the wardroom for the hearty breakfast served before scheduled flights. The smell of frying bacon and ham filled the room. Mess attendants constantly refilled the oversized stainless coffee urns. The rattle of heavy white china, decorated by a blue anchor, accompanied the boisterous hubbub of young fighting men.

Newly-wed Lieutenant Grant Hylton of Fighting Six squadron was glumly eating alone. His best friend, Manny Gonzalez, a husky ensign with Hispanic features and wearing a huge smile, joined him.

"Why are you so damn happy, you big ox?" Grant asked. "You’re stuck here too."

"Not me, amigo. I’ll be seeing Jo Dene and Laura this morning."

"Very funny," Grant replied. "Scouting Six is flying, but you’re in Bombing Six, remember?"

"True, but I swapped with Anderson. He didn’t care; his honey’s in San Diego."

The lieutenant looked up in surprise. "You weren’t kidding, you lucky S.O.B."

"Si, senor, sorry your cute little Wildcat has such short legs. Any jokes today about flying dump trucks?"

"Not today. A Dauntless looks like the only ride into town."

"Don’t worry," Manny teased. "I’ll kiss Laura and Jo Dene for you."

"Make sure that’s one kiss for Laura...and on the cheek, too."

Manny laughed. "I’ll be damn lucky if Jo Dene lets me get away with that."

 

0550:

Lieutenant Grant Hylton, though not scheduled to fly, reported in complete flight gear to the squadron ready room for the now daily dawn alert.

The Enterprise task force, commanded by Vice Admiral Halsey, had left Pearl Harbor on November 28. They delivered a Marine Corps fighter squadron to reinforce tiny Wake Island, isolated and a prime target for attack.

The first day out, their pugnacious commander issued a stunning and controversial Battle Order Number One. It began with "The Enterprise is now operating under war conditions" and called for "steady nerves and stout hearts."

His own operations officer admonished him, "Goddammit, Admiral, you can’t start a private war of your own."

Nevertheless, the order stood, and Enterprise went to war on November 28, fortunately without anyone else’s knowledge, thanks to a strict radio blackout. A week later, tedium was replacing tension in the absence of even a credible false alarm to justify the constant alert. Grant glanced at the teletype machine at the front of the ready room, knowing his fate could be written by this impersonal gray box on its three foot screen. It could send him safely home to Laura’s warm embrace or into battle and a cold sailor’s grave. This morning, it remained mute.

 

0600: USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor

Lieutenant Josh Lee, on engineering watch in the bowels of the battleship Arizona, heard four bells chime. It signaled two more hours on the morning watch and time for a breather.

Even in port, the engineering spaces were warm and rank with the smell of bunker oil. Underway in the tropics with all twelve boilers roaring, hellish became more than a metaphor. To Josh, it was a small price for being in charge of machinery which drove thousands of tons of armor and guns through the water at 21 knots.

On deck, he inhaled deeply the fresh breeze coming off the ocean, clearing his lungs of the engine room’s thick atmosphere. Fore and aft, he saw a forest of huge masts. Altogether, there were seven of these leviathans, tied up along the aptly-named Battleship Row. For Josh, being stationed in Hawaii, assigned to a battleship and married to a beautiful nurse was exactly the life he had dreamed of when he joined the Navy.

He walked back to the quarterdeck where his best friend Sam Madory was Officer of the Deck, resplendent with white gloves and ceremonial spyglass.

"Heads up, Madory," he shouted. "I saw a surprise inspection team heading your way."

Sam laughed. "Good, I could use the excitement. Nothing ever happens on a Sunday morning. But hey, I thought you were on leave."

"Right after Suzanne gets off work at the hospital; we’re off to the Big Island for a week."

"Ever been before?"

"No, but we want to hike the volcanoes, and Suzanne can look for exotic plants."

"It’s a fabulous place. You’re going to have a great time."

"So I’ve heard. We plan to see all the islands while I’m stationed here."

To starboard, they heard the roar and saw the lights of a multi-engine patrol plane taking off from nearby Ford Island Naval Air Station.

"There goes the future, according to a lot of folks," Sam said. "They say battleships are dinosaurs. Reckon we can still sign up and get our wings?"

"That’s airdale bullshit that comes from reading too many Tom Swift stories. I’m damn sure not afraid of those flimsy airplanes and their puny little bombs."

"Maybe…but they’re building more carriers than battleships these days," Sam said.

"There’s an idea for you, building a bunch of ships with wooden decks. Better hope nobody invents a termite bomb."

Sam chuckled appreciatively.

"Me, I like these nice old fashioned steel decks," continued Josh. "Let’s see those flyboys put a bomb through three inches of armor."

"I take it you’re keeping your black shoes then," Sam said. Surface officers wore black shoes, while rival naval aviators wore brown.

"Damn straight. Mark my word, if there’s a war, it’ll be won by the big ships with the big guns, just like always."

0605: USS Enterprise

Grant stood on "vulture’s roost," a platform named for the number of crashes witnessed from it. The flight deck was surprisingly quiet with no engines running. Enterprise turned into the wind and started to gain speed. Every extra knot of air across the deck meant shorter and safer take-off runs. Only now did the pilots appear to start the engines and end the silence.

His friend Manny threw him a backhanded salute as he mounted his Dauntless for an early flight home. The deck was covered in a fog of blue smoke as eighteen Wright Cyclone engines roared to life. The deck crew ran underneath the planes to unchock wheels, surrounded by nearly invisible but deadly propeller blades.

The green light came on; a yellow-shirted flight officer gave the signal, and the first plane of Scouting Six roared off the deck. The dejected newlywed watched with envy as they dispersed on their assigned headings and disappeared into the vast Pacific sky.

 

0610: IJN Kaga

A few hundred miles away, a similar operation took place aboard Kaga, but under far rougher conditions. Training in the remote Kurile Islands and on the stormy northern passage from Japan enabled the crew to handle aircraft on the storm-tossed decks.

The unlikely sound of Honolulu station KGMB played on the bridge, as reassurance that Oahu lay unsuspecting.

Flyer 1st Class Yoshimi Okazaki sat in his Mitsubishi fighter, confident that it had more speed and agility than anything that could oppose it. It was the weapon of a Samurai.

Okazaki had little to distract him from his duty. Romance had not entered his life, as he lacked the wealth and position for any decent family to consider him as a suitor. He feared only dishonor, since dying in the service of the Emperor was a glorious way to honor his sovereign, his nation and his parents.

Kaga turned into the wind to launch the first wave. Despite the weather, the edge of the deck was lined with crewmen who sent every aircraft off by waving their white hats and shouting "BANZAI, BANZAI, BANZAI."

Being junior, Yoshimi was last when he lined up carefully to the center of the deck and opened his throttle. The 14-cylinder radial engine easily lifted the light weight of the fighter, and he began his climb to altitude. A warrior’s destiny lay before him.

 

0630: Honolulu

Sunday had emptied Honolulu’s streets of the morning trucks bringing food to market, harbingers of a new day. Nothing stirred except the lone open-cab Ford that stopped across from a small park. The old woman still could not define the form of the threat, but she sensed that Grant Hylton’s young bride Laura was in danger. Manalani was watching their apartment, because she knew Laura went for a daily sunrise swim at the nearby beach. She protected Grant and his loved ones, because of a promise made years ago to his mother Alana. Neither Laura nor Grant knew that Manalani watched over them, and so it was meant to be.

CHAPTER 2

 

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