Norman Kikuta
Military Intelligence Service

Military Enlistment

Norman quits Teachers College to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Not selected, he works for the U.S. Army Commissary.

Inducted into the army in June 1943, he volunteers and qualifies for the Military Intelligence Service. He ships out for language school at Camp Savage, Minnesota.

Meanwhile, his brother Kunio, a 1942 draftee, joins the 442nd and trains at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. In Europe, he sees combat as an ammunition sergeant.

442nd RCT

[The] call for 442nd came out so I decided to join the 442nd and I dropped my college educational program. When I went to see Dean [Benjamin O.] Wist [to say my farewell] I got chewed out.

Norman Kikuta. UH. Graduation photo
Norman Kikuta. UH. Graduation photo

It must have been very, very frustrating for him because I’m in my last year of Teachers College and then too, he’s losing all his male prospective teachers left and right. In fact, he’s very short on male teachers.

The teachers, mostly Chinese men, quit teaching to work at the [Pearl Harbor Naval] Shipyard because of the very high pay. So, he’s on the [training] end and he is not supplying enough teachers [to the DOE].

[I said,] “I’m resigning to enter the 442nd.” Of course, he couldn’t quite keep me away because I’m doing something for the good of the country.

He said maybe it’ll do me good. Of course, he didn’t realize that I’d be rejected. Neither did I.

U.S. Army Commissary

I wasn’t accepted [into the 442nd RCT]. I really don’t know the reason why. I suspect that there was a military consideration of family relationships. I had only one brother and he was already in the military. He was already a draftee.

I wasn’t the only [one not selected for the 442nd]. They needed 2,000 and 4,000 volunteered. And as it turned out, it was good for me. The Military Intelligence Service came into play.

Then, because of the unsettled future, I had to get some kind of employment right off, a source of revenue. So, I worked for the U.S. Army Quartermaster [Commissary] on Richards Street Downtown [Honolulu].

I’d say [my pay was] maybe about a $135, $140 [a month].

In a commissary, you stock shelves and when customers come in you become a cashier at the checkout counter. I did that for about a month or two, then I got into the office. I was an accounting clerk. Of course, that didn’t last long because in early June, we got called to military duty.

Military Intelligence Service

June [12], 1943, I was inducted into the army.

At that time just about every Tom, Dick and Harry was volunteering for military service. We thought the 442nd was a real exemplary program to get into the national picture and to show our so-called loyalty and, well, it was something we thought we should do.

I volunteered as a result of hearing about the endeavor by the army to get linguists to attend the [Military Intelligence Service Language] School in Camp Savage, Minnesota. I didn’t see any printed matter, anything like that, just by hearsay.

I reported to Nuuanu YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] and there an officer and his sergeants put us through a very simple routine test, reading Japanese characters and maybe engaging in conversational Japanese for a while. Then you just awaited the results.

I was happy to learn that I passed, even though I hardly knew any Japanese at that time. Well, I had gone to Japanese[-language] school for twelve years but from 1939 September until I took the test [in 1943], I had no occasion to use Japanese. I had forgotten how to write kanji [Chinese characters used in Japanese writing], even the simplest [ones].

Simple words like — you know how karada is written in Japanese? “Body.” That’s a very simple basic kanji. Even that word I didn’t remember. That’s very simple, that’s what you learn in first grade.

Then, too, when it came to conversational Japanese, I was a flop because all the time I was going to college there was no one to speak to in Japanese, except maybe occasionally to Rev. [Takie] Okumura at the dormitory. And of course, I didn’t take Japanese subjects on campus from Shunzo Sakamaki or [Yukuo] Uyehara. Had I done so I would have been way ahead (chuckles).

As a result of the qualification test given at the Nuuanu Y I guess each individual, based on his performance, was classified into certain levels of skill. So you had guys like Masaji Marumoto, the judge; Kenji Goto, the hospital administrator at Kuakini [Hospital]. They were all slotted to section one, the top section. And Yoshio Hanao, I remember, who was a grad of a Japanese university, was also in section one.

But I think the classifications were pretty accurate because once we got into language school and started attending classes, we more or less found out the level of ability to speak and [write]. My one great failing was conversational Japanese. I remember the first topic in class that we were asked to speak on was our first impression of the city of Minneapolis. “Minneapolis-shi no hajmete no insho.” That was it and of course I didn’t know what “insho” [impression] meant. So I was embarrassed but there were several others in the class who were on the same level as I was, so that was okay.

I was accepted. Just prior to June [12], a group of about [two hundred] niseis were ordered to report to Schofield [Barracks] and from that point on, we were prepared to move on to the Mainland. I don’t recall the date that we left here but we left on what was formerly the Lurline. That was converted to a troop ship shortly after war began. And we landed in San Francisco.

SS Lurline departing Honolulu with 442nd RCT
SS Lurline departing Honolulu with 442nd RCT

Side Story: Brother Kunio Kikuta

My older brother’s name [is] Kunio. In high school, rather than limiting himself to academic courses, he took the shop program. I guess he went through the two or three years of the automotive repair program.

Upon graduating, he started working in the [Baldwin Packers] company garage, working on heavy equipment. Then, just before the war, he moved to Wailuku and worked for Haleakala Motors, which was a General Motors dealer. He worked as an automotive mechanic at that time.

Well, it wasn’t long [after] he moved to Haleakala Motors that he was drafted, I think, early in 1942. He served with the engineer group at Schofield Barracks. I guess his unit was instrumental in working on the Kolekole Pass Road in Schofield Barracks.

[Kunio Kikuta was a member of C Company, 370th Engineers.]

After about a year working at Schofield with the engineer group [370th Engineers], he volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was being formed around March of 1943. So, he moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. And he trained there until he was sent overseas.

Having the automotive repair background, he was assigned to Service Company, and during combat [in Europe], he served as an ammunition sergeant. You know, seeing that the troops up in the front had the necessary ammo to fight the war.

He did tell me about the harrowing experiences he had because he had to drive at night, mostly during the night so as not to be detected. He hardly had any lights to go by.

We had to dim our lights [because of blackout conditions]. Anyway, fortunately, he came back without being injured. He returned to Baldwin Packers and he was put in charge of the maintenance of the fleet of trucks used in hauling the pineapples. He retired from there, probably about fifteen years ago.

Norman Kikuta's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Norman Kikuta.

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