Military Intelligence Service
Norman is among eleven linguists assigned to the 11th Airborne Division. They stop in Australia for two weeks with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section before flying to New Guinea.
The 11th Airborne leaves New Guinea for Leyte in November 1944.
Japanese paratroopers take San Pablo Airstrip, below Norman’s camp area. A nervous guard points his gun at Norman, who luckily remembers the password. Operations resume when the strip is retaken.
11th Airborne Division
We returned to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, right outside of St. Paul.
Then we were assigned to the 11th Airborne Division, which was in New Guinea at that time.
The eleven linguists, the language team, was attached or assigned to the [11th Airborne] Division. The terms may appear to be duplicative and all that, but that’s the terminology we use. The 176th [Language] Detachment [was a special unit] attached or assigned to the 11th Airborne Division under the jurisdiction of the division G-2, or intelligence division.
The operational requirements required that there be two linguists assigned to each regiment. The [11th Airborne] Division had three regiments, so that meant six of us were detailed out to the three regiments. And all throughout the campaign in the Philippines that’s was how it was. Except that after the Leyte operation, two were evacuated because of illness. I think one had some kind of a tropical disease and another was recalled for some kind of family problem.
On the Leyte campaign I was with those who were retained with the division staff. But on the Luzon campaign Kazuo [Yoshida]’s partner was one of the two that were recalled, so there was vacancy and there was a need for replacement, so I was assigned to work with Kazuo.
Twenty-three [linguists] finished. The other twelve were assigned to another unit and their base was in Honolulu. I think they were headquartered in a furniture store, but then that was used to house some troops, basically because no nisei could be housed in Pearl Harbor. So they were housed outside of Pearl Harbor. These boys were assigned on an as-needed basis to combat divisions in the South Pacific, so some of them participated in Saipan [and other Pacific Islands].
We flew by plane from the airfield right outside of Fort [Snelling] to Hamilton Airfield in California just north of San Francisco. We had to wait a week for air transport and we went to Australia by way of Hawaii, Canton Island, Fiji, New Caledonia and then arrived at Brisbane, Australia.
We were there for about two weeks with [ATIS], Allied Translator and Interpreter Section.
The representative from the 11th Airborne came down from New Guinea to pick us up. There were eleven of us and we flew up to New Guinea on a C-47, a two-engine plane. On the way up to New Guinea, a storm came up and we had to stop by in Townsville, north of Brisbane to spend the night until the storm blew over.
The next day we flew up and I really thought that the plane was going to crash because we were flying over the [Owen Stanley] Range south of New Guinea and the plane really barely made it over the hump.
The troops of the 11th Airborne were just waiting for the date on which to proceed to the Philippines, Leyte. After about two weeks on New Guinea, we shipped out with the 11th Airborne and headed up to Leyte. We landed just about the 10th or 12th of November 1944, about two weeks after General MacArthur said, “I have returned,” when he landed on Leyte Island.
Leyte Island is just about no-man’s-land, you wouldn’t want to be there during the rainy season. It rained every day, and every place you went to you’d be walking in ankle-deep mud. You were never dry at any time.
On December 6 of 1944, when we were in the forward area with the advanced division CP [command post], a flight of what looked like American planes flew over our area and then we saw paratroopers coming out of the planes.
They were Japanese paratroopers and they hit San Pablo Airstrip, which is about two miles below our camp area. They took over the airstrip because we had only a few aviation-type personnel and quartermaster troops over there. They held the strip for about ten days. Now, those small planes that we had there on the strip were used to supply troops up in the mountains like in Manarawat that I showed you. So as a result of that damage to our plane, the troops up there didn’t eat for three days. They didn’t get any supplies. But we re-took the strip and were able to continue combat operations up in the hills.
Just about that time, I was ordered to go up into Manarawat on a small, two-seater plane. I told you that it took me twelve minutes to fly in. Two weeks later I had to walk out. Based on that experience in [flying in], I thought at most it would take me one day to walk out, so I brought with me just one can of cheese [for the day and a half it took to walk out].
Because the terrain was so rough, you wade through, you ford rivers maybe about three or four times in a mile, and then you climb up a mountain, you’d have roots sticking out of the ground, you’d trip over that. It was really hectic. But anyway, we got back to base all right. And shortly thereafter, the operations on Leyte ceased because the Japanese were defeated in Ormoc on the west side of Leyte Island.
Password: “Coleman Lantern”
I wasn’t too much concerned about friendly fire except that one time — did I tell you about Leyte on December 6, that flight of Japanese planes flew over and dropped the parachutists?
As a defense mechanism, the unit, division headquarters, would form a protective or defense perimeter, and I was in one of them at that time. This is December 6, 1944. Unfortunately — you ever heard of Montezuma’s Revenge? (Chuckles) Of all the nights that I would be affected, I had diarrhea and I had to go.
So I told the GI next to me, “I have this problem, I have to go outside the perimeter.” So I went out. Coming back, this guy challenged me. I was so shocked that I forgot what the password was. (Chuckles) And unless he recognized your password, he wouldn’t let you inside the perimeter. I finally recalled what it was, “Coleman Lantern.” That was the password for December 6, 1944. But I really wanted to chew that guy out. He scared me out of my wits, having that gun pointed at me at ten feet.
That same night, the officer who was head of the linguists’ detachment, [and who] joined the unit [only] two weeks earlier, stood up out of his foxhole and that was within the perimeter, not on the edge. Some GI shot him right through the arm. The G-2 officer later admitted, headquarters staff people are edgy. They’re really nervous. They got itchy trigger fingers. That’s what happened. That poor language officer was evacuated to the states and that was his experience with the war. Two weeks.
Norman Kikuta's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Norman Kikuta.