Norman Kikuta
Military Intelligence Service

Language Training

For six months, Norman studies Japanese, with an emphasis on heigo (military terminology). The GIs also practice target shooting and make two-mile mountain hikes.

On weekend passes, they head for Minneapolis, where a favorite hangout is a Chinese restaurant that serves rice. Norman meets a school librarian in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and they become lifelong friends.

He takes a two-week furlough to the East Coast after he graduates in December 1943.

I didn’t know what was in the future. All I knew was we were being sent to Camp Savage to learn the Japanese language and, of course, the language was slanted towards heigo, military language.

Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS)

[MISLS] was a well-organized school. The facilities were adequate. And the school was under the auspices of the army G-2. I guess by that time in 1943, the military recognized the value of having soldiers who were qualified to speak and read and translate in the Japanese language.

Camp Savage. l-r: James Mita, Bert Mitsunaga, Norman Kikuta, Shimada
Camp Savage. l-r: James Mita, Bert Mitsunaga, Norman Kikuta, Shimada

From the very beginning, we knew we were going to be sent to the Pacific area. That’s why heigo military terminology was very important in the classes.

Within Camp Savage there must’ve been about thirty barracks [for students]. Then they had the camp complement who provided the support, mess hall operation, supply operations. We also had a dispensary.

I hate to say this but the doctor attending to our medical needs was a retired [civilian] doctor. He lived in the community and we called him a horse doctor (laughs). Jokingly, you know. He was okay.

Instructors

The instructional staff came out of those in the top classes, like Yoshio Hanao and Kenji Goto. Edwin Kawahara and George Hironaka, who was a Waseda [University] grad.

And we had a lot of kibeis who had studied in Japan before the war broke out and they had come back [to the U.S.]. These guys were much better than the average Japanese in their knowledge of the language, plus also social conditions in Japan.

[John Aiso] was [an] attorney at the time the war broke out and he was inducted as a buck private. When the need for linguists came about, I guess somebody recognized that this guy was a good man. He became the civilian administrator of the school.

Studying

[My Japanese got better], definitely, because that’s what you’re studying eight or maybe nine hours a day, for six months.

We started classwork on 1 July 1943 and we did not graduate until just before Christmas ’43. The instructional program was very accelerated. If you were slow, the class just didn’t wait for you, you got demoted into the lower sections.

In that June ’43 class, I think we had sections from one to about eighteen or nineteen. I was in section eight.

I was classified into section eight and I remained there. I guess in the classification, the raters considered your English knowledge and your Japanese knowledge. My attending the U[niversity of Hawaii], prepared me for the English portion but the Japanese portion I was weak in, so I guess I must have been a compromise pupil.

[I do not know if people got moved up.] Each section (class) had spaces for so many students, maybe twenty or twenty-four, so if there was any movement at my level then somebody would be affected.

You sort of shoving the guy aside so you could take his place. But I knew that and there were about four in my section-eight class who were demoted; they went down to [section] nine.

At that time the need for linguists was rather pressing and I don’t know whether they failed anyone at all.

Military Training

Barracks inspection would take place on a Saturday morning. As far as marching, we did have some field training so you might go to target range to familiarize you with target shooting and two-mile hikes up in the mountains.

Mineo Yamagata and Norman Kikuta in parachute uniform. Photo taken before Mineo departed on assignment overseas. Camp Savage, MN.
Mineo Yamagata and Norman Kikuta in parachute uniform. Photo taken before Mineo departed on assignment overseas. Camp Savage, MN.

So we did have that but not like Camp Shelby where the physical training and military training were intensive. Our chief objective was to gain knowledge in the Japanese language.

Free Time

We generally got a weekend pass, Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. From Saturday after lunch until Sunday night we were free. So, we generally went into Minneapolis, which I think was about sixteen miles away.

In Minneapolis, the first place we’d hit would be the Chinese restaurant, Mun Hing. That was the favorite rendezvous for us GIs.

The food was excellent. They always served rice, which was an item missing at the mess hall. Of course when you ask for “chop suey,” they didn’t know what it was (laughs). I guess one reason why the waitresses in that place took a liking to us Hawaiian boys was that we tipped heavily compared to their regular haoles customers.

Civilians

I have to admit that we were well received [by the people in Minnesota]. No pilikia, no problem at all, except for guys who used to go down to 4th Street close to the railroad station and they’d get into fights. We had a few unfortunate incidents like that.

But in the main, we were well accepted. People invited us to their homes. If you went to church that was even better because you were treated much better that way. And then, too, on weekends we used to go to Wisconsin, to Eau Claire. And the people there, mostly of Germanic backgrounds, were very nice, very nice.

In fact, I continued to correspond with Dr. and Mrs. Schneider of Eau Claire [for many years]. We met them at church and we were invited to their home, had Thanksgiving dinner there. Mrs. Schneider was the school librarian. She traveled widely and later on after the war she used to pass through Hawaii to visit her son in Lebanon. Then I think she spent about a year or two in Japan to teach [at a] girls’ college in Kyushu. So whenever she passed through, she gave me a call and I used to take her out to dinner.

So all in all, I thought the people were very good to us and you couldn’t find anyone better under the situation, under wartime conditions.

Picnic on the lawn of Camp Savage in front of the library, during a break
Picnic on the lawn of Camp Savage in front of the library, during a break

I guess we told them we’re learning the language. And we’re in army uniform. Well, we couldn’t quite come out and say we’re going out to the Pacific and sort of act as spies and so forth.

Salary

[There was gambling at Camp Savage.] Right after payday you’d have the crap tables out and then we played poker. Not everyone played but those who took a liking to that played just about every weekend. I loved the game but fortunately I sort of controlled myself and didn’t lose all of my earnings.

[Your salary] depended on your rank. We started as privates, got promoted to PFC [private first class], so I don’t think it’s more than thirty dollars. And so much would be taken out for your laundry. So maybe we had about twenty or twenty-five dollars in our pocket to last until the next payday.

But you really didn’t need much, except for a haircut and of course going to the PX [post exchange]. Since I didn’t smoke, I didn’t spend my money on that. But in the main, you couldn’t splurge; you didn’t have that much money.

Furlough

Then, of course, when you went on pass you would have to pay for hotel rooms and [meals]. For most of us, that kind of money came from home. We had to rely on our family members to provide us with money and especially when you went on furlough.

[I graduated in December 1943 and went on furlough.]

Norman Kikuta. 45 day furlough in Washington, D.C.
Norman Kikuta. 15 day furlough in Washington, D.C.

We immediately went on this fifteen-day furlough. So since the school had a break — the break was between December, before Christmas, until maybe early part of January when the next class would get started.

Norman Kikuta and Sumio Nakashima on furlough at the Empire State Building, New York
Norman Kikuta and Sumio Nakashima on furlough at the Empire State Building, New York

We had the opportunity to go all the way to the East Coast to New York, Washington, D.C. That’s when we needed about $250 and that was big money at that time.

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

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