Military Intelligence Service
In 1939, with his family’s support, Norman enters the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and boards at Rev. Takie Okumura’s dormitory.
Attracted by teacher pay and job security, Norman enrolls in Teachers College.
A physical examination for the mandatory ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) discloses an irregular heartbeat, and Norman is exempted. This condition is not an obstacle later when he volunteers for the military.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
I finished [high school] in June of 1939 and in September, I matriculated at the university here.
My brother [didn’t go to college]. I guess my brother had to help in earning the tuition. Of course, tuition at that time was very minimal, sixty dollars a semester. Plus, your books.
The boarding fee at Okumura dorm, fortunately, was only thirty dollars a month. Of course, you weren’t eating gourmet food.
They had an elderly cook. You had a lot of moyashi [bean sprouts] and vegetables and this and that.
Compared to Wailuku town, which was the biggest on Maui at that time, I thought, hey, [Honolulu] is quite a sizable city. My cousin picked me up at Pier 29, when I landed by boat, then drove through Downtown and I looked at the two-story buildings and I thought this was a big town.
Of course, everything is relative, right? In 1943, when I went to Minneapolis, it’s a much bigger town than Honolulu. So, your impression changes.
I was in Teachers College.
[I decided to become a teacher.] Well, for one thing, the pay. The job was assured. And teachers at that time were probably earning about $120 a month, whereas if you worked outside, you were lucky to get $60 a month. Because the job was almost guaranteed, either you went into teaching or into social work, working for the state [territory].
Another thing was, probably, I just followed the crowd because there were six of us graduates from Lahainaluna who matriculated into the university here. Five of them got into Teachers College. I just moved with them. So, in Teachers College, as a freshman, I knew at least four others. They were my high school classmates.
There were one hundred freshmen in Teachers College in 1939, [of which] seventy-five were women. Of the twenty-five men, I don’t think too many lasted out or ended up as teachers.
The war intervened in 41. A lot of the returning veterans went to law school and other [pursuits]. You have names like Masato Doi, who was a promising educator. You have even Sparky Matsunaga, [who was] in Teachers College and maybe taught for one or two years before the war came around and he went through the military. After getting out of the military, he went to law school.
Of the twenty-five [boys] who [started in Teachers College in 1939, only] about five or six [ended up teaching]. George Yamamoto at the university, professor emeritus, was one of the few but he was a little older than we were. Of course, some from Teachers College went back to school on the GI Bill of Rights and ended up as MDs. But because of the GI Bill of Rights, Teachers College lost most of its male students.
Physical Examining Board
I was not [in ROTC at UH]. I went [before] the physical examining board. Every freshman entering ROTC will have to go through that. And they decided that I had a bum ticker, and so I was exempted, and that scared me. I went down to a private practitioner and I told him what had happened. He examined me and he said, “Oh yeah, you got an irregular“ — something like a heart murmur.
But, it was no big thing, so that relieved me and I was really happy not to have gone into ROTC because all of my dorm mates, freshmen, had to get up early in the morning [on] Mondays, Wednesdays, [and] Fridays and report by 7:30 to ROTC headquarters [on campus]. They’d come home in the evenings and they’d grumble because Manoa is [in] a rain belt, the dew is on the ground. And all their khakis would be dirty. I was happy that I didn’t [have to take ROTC].
Funny thing is that I’m considered to be physically impaired, so I didn’t have to take the training. But in May of 1943, the Military Intelligence Service [MIS] started calling for volunteers to go to language school. I volunteered and they accepted me.
Later on, [while] I’m finishing Camp Savage MIS language school, after six months, [the army] asked for volunteers to go to parachute training. So I volunteered, and you know how rigid the examination would be because the physical requirements are much more stringent. They accepted me, so, depending on need or the circumstances, you’re either physically impaired or you’re okay.
Norman Kikuta's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Norman Kikuta.