Early Life

Drafted Soon After Pearl Harbor

Deployment to Italy with the 442nd RCT

Infantry Combat in Italy

Wounded

Recovering from Wounds

Post War Assignments

Life after the Army

The Most Decorated Unit in the Army

People Need to Know About the War

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Norman Ikari was born in Seattle, Washington on 17 February 1919. His parents were Japanese immigrants. Life was not unusual growing up. Ikari was in a mixed neighborhood. When Ikari was ten years old, his family moved to southern California. The family settled down in a nice small town by the name of Montebello, which is just east of Los Angeles. That is where, as a ten year old, Ikari encountered his first example of out and out discrimination. His older brothers had found a rental house on the edge of Montebello Park. On that moving date his family loaded onto a truck with all of their belongings. They pulled up to the house and the landlord came out in tears and explained to them that the neighbors did not want a Japanese family living in their neighborhood. That was the first time Ikari ever saw his mother cry. It was a shock to the family. Eventually his brothers found another house. Ikari finished Montebello High School in 1936. By the time Ikari was a junior or senior in high school he realized that the world was very unsettled. Ikari was particularly interested with what was happening with Japan. He realized the Japanese military had expanded way beyond its borders. Island after island in the Pacific was being taken over. It seemed as if the Japanese were heading for Australia all under the guise of their self proclaimed Greater East Asia Co Prosperity Sphere. In other words that meant aggression. It was his ancestral country. They were aggressors. Ikari was well aware of the world situation by the time Pearl Harbor occurred. When Ikari graduated from high school he went to work at fruit and vegetable stands. It was almost next to impossible for a Japanese kid to find a job. Ikari worked in vegetable markets for three years. In the meantime he had gotten acquainted with the chick sexing profession. It was a technique that involved figuring out whether or not baby chickens were male or female. It has enormous economic implications for a farmer. If a farmer buys 100 baby chicks from a hatchery and half become roosters he loses money. If he knows which ones are the egg laying hens it would help him out big time. One of Ikari’s peers learned how to sex chickens in Japan and came back and set up a school to teach people how to do it. Ikari learned how to do it and he would go out to the hatcheries and sex their chickens. Ikari worked in the northwestern part of Ohio at this time. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, practically half of the United States had probably never seen a Japanese person. They performed a relatively valuable service and they were making money. By the time 1940 and 1941 arrived, that put an end to that.

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Norman Ikari recalls Pearl Harbor very well. It was a Sunday morning and Ikari was sitting in his house in East Los Angeles. Ikari, via the radio, learned from a hysteric voice that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Ikari had never heard of Pearl Harbor. At first he was glad because he thought that Pearl Harbor was not the Unite States. It was a shocking and terrible morning. At that time, Ikari was a beginning student at Los Angeles City College. The following day, he had to go to classes and he had a feeling of apprehension of going to school to face the judgment of his peers. The days after that were also pretty awful. Ikari was 1A in the draft which meant he could be subjected to being drafted. There were a few Japanese kids in service, but they were kicked out and given the reason for the convenience of the government, but it was clearly a racial thing. On 20 January 1942, 40 days after Pearl Harbor, Ikari got his draft notice. He was sent to Fort MacArthur in San Pedro where the reception center for the Army was. He swore his oath and became a private in the US Army making 21 dollars a month. Ikari made more money sexing chickens. After Ikari was drafted he was sent to Camp Grant, Illinois. In his draft group there were a bunch of other Japanese Americans but they were well mixed. Camp Grant was a MRTC center [Annotators Note: Medical Replacement Training Center.] There was not a gun in the camp. The only guns in the camp were the ones held by the small Military Police Detachment. The basic training consisted of toughening them up. They were subjected to lectures in anatomy and so forth. They did field work with pitching tents and so forth. In the second month of Ikari’s training, he found out that his family had been evicted from their homes and sent to camps. Ikari’s understanding is that his mother and father were sent to the Poston Camp in Arizona [Annotator’s Note: Poston War Relocation Center]. There were ten camps sent up to evacuate 120,000 Japanese Americans. There was nothing Ikari could do because he was in the Army. His family was at least sort of taken care of. After about two or three months of basic training, Ikari was allowed to take a ten day pass to Arizona to visit his mother at the camp. Ikari was questioned by Military Police because of his appearance. Ikari was finally able to get to the camp where his mother and family were. He was glad to be able to see them before he went back to Camp Grant. Ikari and several other Japanese Americans were wondering where they were going to be shipped to. They walked across the street to the medical detachment at the station hospital for Camp Grant. Ikari lucked out because he was given a job in the hospital’s diagnostic laboratory. Ikari’s records stated he was pre-med in college. The laboratory work was great it taught him a lot. He was promoted to sergeant. In February 1943, President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson authorized the creation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Ikari heard about this, but he did not make a decision on transferring. In November 1943, Ikari asked for a transfer to Camp Shelby to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They had already been training for about nine months.

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Norman Ikari’s request for a transfer to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was granted, but he was busted down from sergeant to private. He still does not know why this happened. Ikari wound up in Camp Shelby as a private. He went through basic training in the infantry. He found out which end of the rifle was the business end. Ikari was assigned to Company E which had Daniel Inouye as one of the members. [Annotators Note: Ikari asks the interviewer if he heard about Inouye; this interview was filmed the day after Inouye passed away] They fell out in full formation one morning and a tall figure with five stars was walking that way. George Marshall had come down from Washington to look them over. Some of the guys joked that Marshall’s visit was the kiss of death. They shipped out from Camp Shelby in May 1944. They shipped out to Camp Pickett and loaded up in Newport News, Virginia. Ikari went across the Atlantic Ocean and there was a great deal of speculation as to where they were going to go. By that time the 100th Infantry Battalion had been fighting in Italy. The first guess was that they were going to Italy. Some guys thought they were going to do guard duty at the Panama Canal. After 28 days at sea they landed at the bombed out harbor in Naples. They then loaded onto Landing Ship Tanks and they went up the Italian coast on the side of Naples. By that time the German Army had pulled out of Rome and Rome was declared an open city. It meant that Rome did not need to be fought over. Their small boats landed at Civitavecchia which is a small port city just north of Rome. There they joined the 100th Infantry Battalion. The 100th Infantry Battalion had been fighting for seven months. They were all attached to the 34th Infantry Division. Their first combat orders came through at the end of June. Their objective was to clear the enemy out of a little town called Belvedere. This was the first action that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team took part in. The 100th Infantry Battalion had been put into reserve for the Belvedere action. The 442nd RCT itself sort of staggered a bit. The commanding general of the 34th Infantry Division was used to having the 100th Infantry Battalion moving and getting the job done. The 100th Infantry Battalion was incorporated into the 442nd RCT’s lines and the entire battle of Belvedere was fought with the aiding veteran influence on the 442nd RCT. This action became the topic of an article in Yank Magazine. That was their introduction to combat. First combat is always a very nervous and scary thing. The terrain in Italy was very hilly. The Germans attempted to occupy the high ground. It seemed that every piece of high ground contained a German machine gun nest. This became a pattern. They would go up hills not knowing what was up there. If the Germans opened fire they knew they had to figure out how to knock it out. It was the pattern in North Central Italy.

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Norman Ikari and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had to sweep through tiny Italian towns and villages. Street fighting is another nerve-racking situation. The worst part of combat was the fact that sometimes they would get pinned down by German artillery. The Germans used 88s [Annotator’s Note: the German 88 mm artillery weapon] against them. It was a light artillery piece and very mobile. It could be used against tanks, people, and aircraft. The 88s would create a high pitched whine before it landed and exploded. They would have preferred to go into a firefight anytime rather than be pinned down by 88s. As they went through the villages it became a problem figuring out if they were occupied or not. It was all very scary but they got used to it. Ikari would see guys get hit by bullets and shrapnel. After two or three days on the line they could hope for a few hours of rest. Then they would get sent back up into the line. Finally, they got to July. In July, they were attempting to knock out a German outpost on Hill 140. On 17 July 1944 they had gotten to the top of a ridgeline. It was late in the afternoon and they were milling about at the top of the ridgeline. Lieutenant Bryan ordered them to keep going. It was late afternoon and he asked the squad leader to get two guys for the point. Ikari got selected as the number two man in the point. Ikari and the number one man headed down the hill. About 40 yards later, Ikari was shot down. He was hit in both legs. His number one man looked at Ikari and ran up the hill yelling, that Ikari had been hit. Ikari realized he could not move because he had been shot through both legs. It was a scary situation. Ikari tried to crawl, but he could not even crawl. He realized it may be better to play dead. Ikari was yelling for the medics and saying his prayers. He began to pass out. The bullet that went through his leg had also clipped his femoral artery. He heard footsteps running down the hill. He looked up and he saw the Red Cross on the medic’s helmet. It was Kelly [Annotators Note: Kelly Kuwayama, also interviewed by The National WWII Museum]. Kelly was a combat medic who was assigned to their platoon. He had come running down the hill. The other guy Kelly ran down the hill with had a little white flag on his handkerchief. Kelly leaned over Ikari and asked why he did not put on a tourniquet. Ikari thought it was the dumbest thing he could have asked. Kelly got Ikari together, but then they were being bracketed by mortar fire. Kelly said they were taking an awful chance. If one of the shells had landed in the middle all three would have been wiped out. Ikari got carried up the hill and by that time it was dark. Ikari does not remember much until a litter bearer group carried him back to the battalion aid station. He was in shock and in pain. Ikari woke up in the aid station and the battalion surgeon leaned over him and asked if he felt better. Ikari did feel better. They were putting IV plasma into him. That is the beginning of a long medical recovery story. Ikari being wounded knocked him out of combat for good.

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Norman Ikari went from the aid station to the 56th Evacuation Hospital. This was a forward tent hospital where they could do surgery. Ikari had a compound fracture of his left femur and a compound fracture on his right lower leg. [Annotators Note: Ikari shows the interviewer the damage to his leg.] Ikari found one of the bullets and it was pulled out of his shoe. Ikari endured the initial surgeries that took place at the 56th Evacuation Hospital. He was then loaded on to a hospital transport plane that took him to Rome. In Rome, he was at the 6th General Hospital. Ikari was then put on a hospital train which took him to Naples. Around September or October of 1944, he had recovered sufficiently and was discharged from the hospital. Ikari went before the medical board before he was discharged. The medical board classified Ikari “PLA” [Annotators Note: Permanent Limited Assignment]. He was sent to a replacement depot from which he was assigned to the 15th Medical General Laboratory. The Army has several of these large medical reference laboratories throughout the world. The 15th Medical General Laboratory was in Naples. It happened to be a veterans’ general laboratory. The veterans had a variety of odd jobs. One of the jobs required the veterans to inoculate different animals that guys were keeping as pets. Ikari was then sent to the harbor area in Naples and he was joined by a bunch of other PLA guys. Ikari thought this was great. He thought they were going to be sent home. They were loaded onto a transport and told they were going to land at Newport News. The travel orders said that upon landing they were to take two weeks of leave and then report to Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Camp Ritchie is an intelligence center. Ikari took his leave and was able to get over to New York to visit his brother then went to Chicago to visit his girlfriend. He was also able to get over to Poston to visit his mother who was still in the internment camp. Ikari was called into a room by a colonel. They were told they had done their duty, but that they would have one more. They were asked to get acquainted with captured Japanese materials such as weapons and uniforms. They were then going to be sent out as demonstration teams to infantry replacement centers. The guys sat there in stony cold silence. Ikari could not fathom changing into a Japanese uniform and putting on a demonstration. It was a ridiculous order. They were all wounded with Purple Hearts and some guys even had the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Stars. Another officer came in and was a bit more diplomatic. He politely asked them again to do this duty. None of the guys said they would do it. Some of the guys were scared that they could be court-martialed. The officers sensed that the guys were going to refuse it. August 1945 came and the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered. The war was over.

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Norman Ikari’s days at Camp Ritchie were numbered. Ikari was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He thought that was the home of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was assigned to a headquarters unit and did clerical duty. Ikari had enough points at this point and was discharged from the Army with his Ruptured Duck [Annotator’s Note: Honorable Service Lapel Button issued to military personnel when they were Honorably Discharged from the military]. Ikari was given a couple of hundred dollars. His parents were taken out of the camp when the war was over. Ikari’s mother and father were separated when the war started, so they were not sent to the same camp. They had established a program where people could be asked to be sent back to Japan. There was a Swedish vessel that would take these people over. The older people wanted to go back to Japan. One of those people was Ikari’s father. He spent the war in Japan. Ikari’s mother was in Poston with the younger kids. When Ikari was discharged the camp was still open, but they were trying to close it. Shortly after the camps were closed, Ikari’s mother went back to their house in East Los Angeles. Ikari’s mother had gotten word that he was wounded. Ikari was nervous about notifying his mom. When he got to the last hospital in Naples a Red Cross girl came in and told Ikari he had not informed his family yet. Ikari wrote his brothers and told them to tell his mom. It was good for Ikari to see his family again. Ikari had two younger brothers who are also World War II veterans. One of his younger brothers was drafted towards the end of the war and he wound up at Fort Snelling [Annotator’s Note: at the Military Intelligence Language School at Fort Snelling, Minnesota] to study Japanese linguistics. By that time the war had ended. He was sent to Tokyo to MacArthur’s headquarters as a part of the Army of Occupation. He was commissioned in the CIC [Annotators Note: Counter Intelligence Corps] as an officer. He had a special duty that no one really knew about for awhile. His duty was to investigate certain areas of Japan for communist activity. They asked him what part of Japan he wanted to work in. He answered the northern part. The northern part was where Ikari’s father was. His brother Bob looked up their father. His father was embarrassed because here was his son in an American Army uniform. It was very difficult for his father to accept that. His brother Bob would sometimes dress in Japanese civilian clothes. He could never pass as a Japanese civilian. Even though he could speak Japanese well, it was a giveaway that he was not local. One time he was ordered to board a Russian vessel. When he got ready to leave the ship, the Russians did not believe he was American. He had to get communication down to Tokyo to have MacArthur’s HQ [Annotator’s Note: headquarters] radio to the Russians that Bob Ikari was with them. His other younger brother was Ted and he was one of the early volunteers for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was married and volunteered and ended up in the artillery. He wound up in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. He went overseas with Ikari’s group and served in the Italian Campaign. He also went with the 442nd RCT to France. His battalion was separated and then assigned to the 7th Army. He finished the war and was discharged. Both of Ikari’s younger brothers have passed away.

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After he was separated from the Army, Ikari ended up in Los Angeles but he was a little lost. He had thoughts about reenlisting. A lot of his friends joked with him about joining. Instead, Ikari went and finished his second year at Los Angeles City College. He then transferred to UCLA as a junior and finished his degree there. He got his degree in 1949. Ikari majored in bacteriology. He still had faint hopes of going to medical school. He certainly was not a straight A student and he had no connections via relatives. He took a minor in laboratory technology. This was so that when he graduated he would have a chance to get a job. Ikari got his bachelor’s degree from UCLA and then got a job in the Los Angeles City Health Department. The rest of his life followed and he had a marriage that failed. It was mostly Ikari’s fault. He had a second marriage where he married a girl from Texas who already had kids. Interracial marriage was still looked at questionably, so they decided to leave California and they ended up in Richmond, Virginia. Ikari got a job in the VA hospital in Richmond. Life went on and it was kind of strained. They had a baby in Richmond to go along with two other girls. Their marriage was not working out and Ikari figured he would go to Washington and perhaps go to graduate school and figure things out. He got a job at the National Institutes of Health and got his master’s degree from George Washington University. Ikari then transferred to Georgetown Medical School. In 1965, Ikari got his PhD from Georgetown. Ikari, at the time, was the oldest person in the US to earn his PhD. Ikari met his third wife in Washington and they have a daughter together as well. His daughter is an Assistant Attorney for the US Department of Justice. His daughter works an hour’s drive from Newtown. The entire state is just devastated. [Annotators Note: This interview was filmed shortly after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.] Ikari has been busy in his later life with veterans’ groups and veterans’ programs. Ikari took up golf and went a little crazy with it. Ikari is also a saltwater surf fisherman. Ikari is a couple of months short of 94 and hopefully he can go a little bit more. The 100th Infantry Battalion was the first racially segregated unit. After Pearl Harbor, they got 1400 Japanese Americans together and they formed the basis of the 100th Battalion. A few white officers were included in on that. Most of the officers were white and that was how it went. When the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was formed they had about 4000 people. All of the officers from the regimental level to the platoon level were all white. There was a tiny fraction of the officers that were Nisei [Annotator’s Note: second generation Japanese American] but they were in specialized areas such as the medics or quartermaster. Some of the Japanese [Annotator’s Note: Japanese Americans] that became officers did so by battlefield commissions [Annotator’s Note: promotion in the field]. When Ikari got to Shelby [Annotator’s Note: Camp Shelby, Mississippi] most of the officers were still white officers.

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Norman Ikari was in Camp Shelby when he was put into E Company. Senator Inouye was a buck sergeant squad leader. He was one of the Hawaii guys. Ikari did not bump into Inouye again until they were up on the line. They were going up a hill towards a house and they were not sure if it was occupied. The only way to find out is to walk towards the house. They were able to flank the house and Inouye’s squad was on the other side of the house. Ikari’s group ran up to the left corner of the house and they had not been fired on yet. They heard an explosion on the other side of the house. Ikari figured there were Germans in there. Finally they got to the back of the house and Inouye’s squad had gone past the house chasing somebody in the woods. Ikari went back to the house and some of the guys were being very macho banging on the house doors. An Italian grandma came out and she was bleeding from the side of the face. They put her on a stretcher and got her back to the aid station. Ikari thought back on this event many years later. Someone on Inouye’s side had thrown a grenade into the house. Ikari had no more contact with Inouye after that. Ikari notes that there may be some hyperbole involved with the blanket statement that the 442nd RCT was the most decorated unit from World War II. Ikari believes in numbers and thinks that until there is a comparative study done between the 442nd RCT and other regimental combat teams then there is no way of officially claiming they are the most decorated combat outfit of the war. Ikari knows that they have an impressive record of Medals of Honor and Distinguished Service Crosses. Ikari has faced resistance from other guys. Ikari received his Bronze Star for service. There was no attached citation with it.

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Norman Ikari believes that it is important that kids learn about World War 2 and American history. This history is long before the current generation’s time. Ikari likes to think about how big and encompassing World War 2 was. He believes that the whole country fought it. Ikari believes that a lot of the free world came together during World War 2. It was a devastating war. Over 400000 American lives were lost. Ikari thinks that as a piece of history World War 2 should be useful to somebody. Ikari believes it is important that we have a museum honoring that generation. There is an urgency about it now. Most of the people who lived during this period are dying off fast. Almost every unit that participated during World War 2 is down to a small number of people. The actual history of fighting the war was traumatic but they got through it. Ikari still remembers after Pearl Harbor how the whole nation rose up with hate and anger towards the Japanese. All Ikari knew was America so he always felt odd when people hated him for being Japanese. Ikari has never even been to Japan. There are German and Italian Americans who have never been to Germany or Italy. Ikari just never got to Japan. Either he was broke or too lazy. Ikari did have problems after the war with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Ikari refers to it as combat fatigue and a lot of guys had it in varying degrees. Ikari was very unsettled when he came home. He almost enlisted so that he could get back into a familiar pattern of living. Ikari would tell future Americans that we are a country almost like no other because we believe in basic human principles such as liberty, equality, and tolerance. As Japanese Americans they are very grateful that they are here in America. They are proud to be Americans. They should probably be called Americans of Japanese ancestry. It’s hard for Ikari to imagine living anyplace else. He is proud of what his group did as Americans and as soldiers and even as citizens. Ikari notes that it was painful to lose Senator Inouye because he has been a wonderful representative of the 442nd RCT. There is a significant difference between Japanese Americans raised in the mainland compared to the Japanese Americans raised in Hawaii. In Hawaii they did not have to deal with segregation and racism. Through it all they had come out alright. Ikari thanks the interviewer at the end.
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