Ja­panese-Amer­i­can WWII war hero Ben Kuroki dies

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ben Kuroki, who over­came the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary’s dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies to be­come the only Ja­panese Amer­i­can to fly over Ja­pan dur­ing World War II, has died. He was 98.

Kuroki died Tues­day at his Ca­mar­illo, Cal­i­for­nia, home, where he was un­der hos­pice care, his daugh­ter Julie Kuroki told the Los An­ge­les Times on Satur­day.

The son of Ja­panese im­mi­grants who was raised on a Her­shey, Ne­braska, farm, Kuroki and his brother, Fred, vol­un­teered for ser­vice af­ter the Dec. 7, 1941, Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor.

They were ini­tially re­jected by re­cruiters who ques­tioned the loy­alty of the chil­dren of Ja­panese im­mi­grants. Un­de­terred, the broth­ers drove 240 kilo­me­ters to another re­cruiter, who al­lowed them to sign up.

At the time, the Army Air Forces banned sol­diers of Ja­panese an­ces­try from fly­ing, but Kuroki earned his way onto a bomber crew and flew 58 bomber mis­sions over Europe, North Africa and Ja­pan dur­ing the war. He took part in the Au­gust 1943 raid over Nazi oil fields in Ploesti, Ro­ma­nia, that killed 310 fliers in his group. He was cap­tured af­ter his plane ran out of fuel over Morocco, but he man­aged to es­cape with crew­mates to Eng­land.

Be­cause of his Ja­panese an­ces­try, he was ini­tially re­jected when he asked to serve on a B-29 bomber that was to be used in the Pa­cific. But af­ter re­peated re­quests and a re­view of his stel­lar ser­vice record, Sec­re­tary of War Harry Stim­son granted an ex­cep­tion.

Crew mem­bers nick­named him “Most Hon­or­able Son,” and the War Depart­ment gave him a Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross. He was saluted by Time mag­a­zine in 1944 un­der the head­line “HE­ROES: Ben Kuroki, Amer­i­can.”

He was hailed a hero and a pa­triot at a time when tens of thou­sands of Ja­panese Amer­i­cans were con­fined at in­tern­ment camps amid fears of a Ja­panese in­va­sion of the West Coast.

Af­ter the war, Kuroki en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska, where he ob­tained a jour­nal­ism de­gree. He pub­lished a weekly news­pa­per in Ne­braska for a short time be­fore mov­ing to Michigan and fi­nally to Cal­i­for­nia, where he re­tired as the news editor of the Ven­tura Star-Free Press in 1984.

In 2005, he re­ceived the U.S. Army Distin­guished Ser­vice Medal, one of the na­tion’s high­est mil­i­tary hon­ors.

“I had to fight like hell for the right to fight for my own coun­try,” Kuroki said at the award cer­e­mony in Lin­coln, Ne­braska. “And I now feel vin­di­ca­tion.”

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