Military Intelligence Service
Parachute Training Program
Norman is among twenty-five volunteers sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for parachute training. Physical conditioning is followed by instruction on packing parachutes and high tower jumps.
Despite a fear of heights, Norman qualifies by making five jumps from planes at Fort Benning. He makes three more jumps at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, where the men undergo more training.
On furlough, he winds up in Washington, D.C. on July 4, 1944.
After the fifteen-day furlough, we returned to Camp Savage. I [volunteered] for the parachute training program and I was sent down to Fort Benning, Georgia.
Each barracks contained about thirty GIs (students) and five of us volunteered from Barracks B, so it’s just probably through hearsay that I inquired about it. Out of the twenty-five total who were sent to Fort Benning, five came out of my barracks.
Fort Benning, Georgia
[We were sent to] Fort Benning, Georgia. I’m not sure whether it was three or four weeks, but we spent the first week on the Alabama side of Fort Benning. You have the Chattahoochee River separating the Alabama side from the Georgia side.
The army was training [at Fort Benning], that was the training grounds for all parachutists. We had thousands of [soldiers].
First week was spent in physical conditioning. Then after the first week we were returned to the Georgia side. They put you on a high tower and let you jump off. But then you’re hooked onto a cable and you merely jumped off, and slid down [the cable] until you hit the ground.
The most trying test before having to jump out of the plane was being pulled up on the 200-foot tower. You’d get strapped to an [already] opened parachute. The parachute diameter is about twenty-eight feet. The chute is clamped on to the ring, and then you’re pulled up to 200 feet on the top. Then you are released, that means that all the clamps are released and you’d float down to the ground. I guess that was the beginning of getting used floating down from that altitude.
I think I [had a fear of heights]. As an eleven-year-old, I fell off a coconut tree and from that point on I was always fearful of heights. But I was just fortunate that when I fell I landed in the alfalfa patch from about twenty feet, so the only thing I suffered was a sprained wrist. [Several years later], in that same coconut [grove] area, an adult Filipino fell off a tree but he landed on the opposite side. It was a stony streambed. He broke his back and later died. So I was just fortunate landing on the right side.
In the training we had to learn how to pack our own parachutes. They had a long packing shed and we’d have two of us working together. We’d pack our own chutes under the supervision of the sergeants who monitored every move you made in packing. We were responsible for packing our own chutes for all five qualifying jumps.
The joke was, if the chute failed, don’t blame anybody else. You only have yourself to blame. But aside from what we called the main chute, we also carried a reserve chute over here [stomach area]. That was a much smaller chute but it [was large enough to bring] you down safely. You pulled [the reserve chute cord manually].
Prior to loading on the plane, you have all the while to worry about [that first jump] but we didn’t have too many problems. For one thing, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t have the experience before but once you got on the plane and your procedure is sort of regimented and the jump instructor would say, “Hook up.” You don’t have time to think about, “Oh, what am I going to do,” and so forth. Or you can’t say, “Oh, I ain’t going to jump.” You just got to carry through. But it really wasn’t much of a problem. I’d say maybe [almost all in the two sticks (24)] would jump under the situation. Very few failed.
In the last week of training at Fort Benning, we would make one jump a day for five days to qualify. So there would be about twenty-four [men] in each flight going up. Then at the appointed or designated jumping area, the green light would come on and the jump sergeant would say, “Okay, stand up, hook up.”
There’s a cable running through the plane; you’d hook up and then you’d stand in position and the guy in the back would check your equipment to see that everything was appropriate. Then the lead-off man would stand at the open door. The jumpmaster would tap the guy and he’d jump out. The static line, being hooked to the cable, pulled the chute out. It’s an automatic chute, you couldn’t do anything.
Then each one followed each other one by one, so all twenty-four would be out of the plane in a minute or so. So you couldn’t get any cold feet because you’d be shoved along.
[We learned to] maneuver the chute. If you pull the front cord the chute would be angled like this and you’d probably come down. If you pulled the rear cord the chute would be like this catching more air, but depending on wind conditions. Truthfully, we didn’t have much control of the chute. Not like the different type of chutes that you see nowadays where they can maneuver to maybe ten feet of the target. We didn’t have that control.
After making nine jumps, I didn’t have any mishap. Except one time I think [while] I made my seventh jump and I had a main chute failure. The shroud lines got tangled [cigar roll], [so the chute wouldn't open properly]. Fortunately, one of my buddies yelled out and said, “Open the chute; use your reserve,” so I did. I came down safely, but my main chute had failed.
[I could barely hear somebody yelling but] if you’re observant and [alert] you’d know because you’re coming down at a faster rate than the others. You're coming down fast.
To qualify to become a parachutist you have to make five [jumps] and all five were made at Fort Benning in the parachute school. I made three later on with the 13th Airborne Division at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.
The last [qualifying] jump, the fifth jump, was made at night. And to me that was the easiest jump I made because for one thing you can’t see the ground, so you have no perception of depth. And then there was no wind that night, so I came down landing on my feet. That’s a no-no, now. On windy days, it’s not possible to land on your two feet.
You sort of tumble over and the chute would be pulled by the wind. But on that night jump the air was so still, I just came down. Just like a feather.
Twenty-three of us qualified. Two decided at the last minute they weren’t going to make the fifth jump, probably due to family pressure. One guy was a kotonk [Japanese person from the U.S. Mainland], he was married already. Because, without question [parachuting is] a hazardous occupation.
Camp Mackall, North Carolina
We knew that were going to be assigned to a parachute division, airborne division we call it. There was an 11th Airborne [Division] and there was a 13th Airborne [Division]. After finishing at Fort Benning, Georgia, we were moved to Camp Mackall, North Carolina. And we trained; we made three more jumps there with the 13th Airborne Division.
We were specialists, [attached to the 13th] for training purposes. We were a special group because our foremost mission was language [and interpretation].
I would like to make one comment about the 13th Airborne [Division]. We traveled all the way to North Carolina [to a] small railroad station called Hamlet, North Carolina. It was a Sunday morning and the division commander, General [Eldridge] Chapman, was there to greet us.
That impressed us quite a bit because you wouldn’t find a two-star commanding general to be waiting on Sunday morning. We later found out that prior to our arrival in that area, he had released public information to the effect that there would be a group of nisei, or [ethnic] Japanese soldiers, would arrive in the area. He had released that information so the surrounding community was aware of our training in that area.
I think we stayed [at Camp Mackall] for about a month. It must’ve been just about July when we completed our training at Camp Mackall.
Following that, we were given a five-day leave. On July 4th of 1944, a group of us linguists, was in Washington, D.C. It was a hot, sultry day and we went to the reflecting pool and we took our shoes off and dangled our feet in the water (laughs).
The next day we went to New York and we went to Coney Island. When you’re in a group you accomplish a lot of these crazy little things.
The leader was a staff sergeant. We called him “Eskimo” because he came out of Alaska. He had graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle. Then he was inducted in the army and he had the experience so he had rank when he led our contingent down to Fort Benning. He already was a staff sergeant whereas we were just PFCs.
I don’t know whether you remember Bert Mitsunaga. He was a developer; he built several buildings in town. John Nakahara. We had Richard Suehiro; he was connected with the East-West Center for a while. And George Ito, who was very successful after college because he hooked up with Hart, Shaffner, Marx, that suitmaker on the Mainland. And I guess he set up the [company's] computer system, I guess maintaining the stock and so forth.
Norman Kikuta's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Norman Kikuta.