Norman Kikuta
Military Intelligence Service

Military Linguist

Because Norman is with a fighting unit in the field, Japanese-language translation, interpretation, and conversation duties are rare. Information gleaned from lowly Japanese soldiers weakened by starvation is not too helpful.

His unit moves into Laguna de Bay, east of Manila, in response to scattered fighting. The fighting winds down by July 1945. To prepare for an invasion of Japan, the division moves to a staging area (Lipa) in southern Luzon.

Duties

The linguist's mission is to translate any captured document to see whether there is any strategic or tactical value as to where the troops are or whether they have ammunition. Another is to interpret where both parties don’t speak the other's language. The third one is conversation.

When you’re with a field-fighting unit you don’t have too many occasions to do those things. We’re traveling fast and we’re out in the field. We don’t have our reference materials. So in truth we did very little of that except for those who did remain in the headquarters with G-2 and on occasion they would receive diaries from the Japanese troops and other papers.

This type of work is done mostly back in the corps or with ATIS. In the fighting division it’s very unusual, but once in a while you do come across important information.

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Going back to Leyte, our fighting troops picked up two pay books that the Japanese soldiers carried with them. To get paid they had to produce the pay book and the paymaster, upon making payment, would put his han [stamp] on it.

Now the Japanese army very carefully puts out a long list of all of the officer personnel with their names [and their units]. Akira Abe, who is a kibei and who had served in the Japanese army for training, recognized the han from the two pay books, and he compared it against the roster of officers and he was able to match. Thereby, he knew what outfit they came from. He told that to the G2 and that helped militarily. Although we don’t [heap] praises [on ourselves], I think the so-called kibei, those who had studied in Japan, did wonders for the [U.S.] military.

Foot Soldier

I never pointed my gun at anybody. We weren’t that close to the enemy. Of course, the enemy meaning those in the front line, opposing our moving troops.

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The only enemy personnel that I saw [was a] captured pilot on Mindoro Island. He was already captured, but he couldn’t provide any worthwhile information. There were others who were starving, they were ill, on the verge of dying. You can’t glean much information out of those guys. And then too, for those lowly Japanese soldiers, they didn’t have the broad picture. They only knew what was on the ground. So, it wasn’t too helpful.

I moved with the regimental people so we moved about quite a bit and we were exposed to danger, too. Well, maybe through these interviews, we are able to maybe correct the myth that nisei linguist personnel had a nice and clean base in the back area and enjoying three hot meals a day. But those assigned to the field units, weren’t that lucky.

We had to be very careful. Let’s see, in the city of Manila there was one Chinese guy, American Chinese, assigned to CIC, counter intelligence group. He and I went to a small market in Manila and what surprised me, the natives all looked at the Chinese guy and said, “You Hapon, you Hapon,” meaning, “You Japanese,” but they didn’t say that to me. They were pointing the finger at the wrong guy (laughs). They didn’t say that to me. So I must have passed as a half-breed or something.

I didn’t hear of any stories [of capture by Filipinos or Japanese] happening. But I think our relations with the native Filipinos — the relations were helped by our being familiar with the Filipinos back here. We just about grew up with the laborers and the families, so it was no big thing for us to be transplanted into the Filipino community.

[After Manila, we went to] Laguna de Bay, that’s east of Manila. There was scattered fighting in that area so the unit moved into that area to sort of clean up.

The division moved back to staging area in the southern portion of Luzon, south of Manila — to prepare itself for the advance on the homeland of Japan. I have to refresh my memory. This book is very accurate. It records all of the different places of combat. In fact, had I refreshed my memory after reading this book I would’ve been able to tell you in [greater] detail.

[The book is called, The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division, 1943–1946 by Major Edward M. Flanagan, Jr., published in 1948 by the Infantry Journal Press, Washington, D.C.]

[After Manila, we went to] Laguna de Bay, that’s east of Manila. There was scattered fighting in that area so the unit moved into that area to sort of clean up.

Nisei with Japanese officer
Nisei with a Japanese officer, east of Manila

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

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