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Eyes of the Emperor    by Graham Salisbury order for
Eyes of the Emperor
by Graham Salisbury
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 2007 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Graham Salisbury's books are always a pleasure to read. Eyes of the Emperor adds another chapter in history to his award-winning Under the Blood-Red Sun. Humbly and admiringly, the author dedicates his work 'To The 'Boys of Company B' Who Served on Cat Island, Mississippi, During World War II', listing the names of the twenty-six Hawaiian Americans of Japanese ancestry who served in the U.S. Army. Of the twenty-six, eight were living (as of the date of the book's publication) and were willingly interviewed by Salisbury.

Protagonist Eddy Okubo graduated from high school at age sixteen. He lives with his Pop, Ma, and younger brother Herbie in the Kaka'ako neighborhood of Honolulu. Pop and Ma migrated to Hawaii from Hiroshima in 1921, where Pop established his craft as the finest boat-builder. Pop always planned to send his sons to college in Japan, to know their culture. Eddy saw it differently: 'Japan was part of me, but this was my country America.'

Forging the year on his birth certificate, Eddy is inducted into the U.S. Army, which requires age eighteen. When he makes the announcement to his parents, Pop dismisses Eddy as his son. While Eddy and his friends Chik and Cobra are on leave in Hawaii, Japanese forces bomb Pearl Harbor. 'High above the fighters, bombers in 'V' formation crawled across the sky over Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, each letting loose their belts of steel death ... the bombs falling, disappearing into the smoke, then - Ka-boom! - buckling and obliterating the helpless parked planes and ships.'

Now seen as the enemy, Japanese-Americans everywhere are taken into custody, and consistently held under suspicion. Eddy and twenty-four Japanese-American soldiers are transported to a remote island, Camp McCoy in Mississippi. They are to participate in a secret mission. Stunned by his homeland's act of aggression and destruction, Pop encourages Eddy to serve well. Thoughts linger: 'They are so wrong about us ... They see us, they see the guys in those planes dropping bombs on them. We got the eyes of the Emperor.'

Cat Island was originally named by the French, who mistook raccoons for felines. The island runs east to west, three miles long. It's filled with 'tall trees and thick jungle undergrowth', infested with poisonous snakes, gators, and boars. The twenty-five soldiers are housed on a nearby 'look-like sandbar island' called Ship, harboring old Fort Massachusetts, built during the Civil War and later 'used as a quarantine station for yellow fever'. They are housed in barracks, with plenty of fish and fresh air, and transported back and forth to Cat Island. They are assigned to train with 800 U.S. Army war dogs under assigned dog handlers. The mission: to prepare the canines for use in warfare, each Japanese-American soldier serving as bait.

Graham Salisbury was allowed to tour Cat Island. In his Author's Note, Salisbury wrote, 'Eyes of the Emperor is based on factual events and incidents of World War II.' He tells what happened to men of the Cat Island, Third Platoon, Company B, adding: 'Thank you for your example. Thank you for your heroism. Thank you for your service. You have honored us all.' I highly recommend to you Graham Salisbury's Eyes of the Emperor, which had me humming that old ditty: 'You're in the Army now. You're not behind a plow. You'll never get rich by digging a ditch. You're in the Army now.'

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