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The Homefront, Then and Now

"I had to fight like hell for the right to fight for my country!"

Tech Sgt. Ben Kuroki earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, and Air Medal with 5 Oak Clusters, and, in 2005, a Distinguished Service Medal for his stellar record in combat for his cournty.
In early 1942, US Army recruiting offices across the country were swamped with volunteers. But when Nebraska-born Ben Kuroki and his brother, Fred, tried to enlist at the recruitment office in North Platte, Nebr., nearest to their family farm, they were immediately rejected. It had nothing to do with the boys’ health—everything to do with their Japanese heritage.

Determined to fight for their country, they traveled a hundred miles farther to present themselves at the Grand Island, Nebr. office, which took them in without question, and they became two of the very first Nisei (second-generation Japanese) to be accepted into the US Army Air Corps. After basic training, 25-year-old Ben was told Japanese-Americans could not serve overseas. He was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Group in Florida.

Still determined prove his loyalty by taking part in the fight, Ben petitioned his commanding officer and was permitted to go to England and work as a clerk for the Eighth Air Force. Desperate for gunners, the air force opened aerial gunner training to volunteers, and in two weeks Ben was manning a top turret gun on a B-24 Liberator bomber and flying missions over Europe. After a crash landing in Morocco, and a stint in Spanish prisons, he rejoined his squadron, and took part in the dangerous, low-level raid on Hitler’s Ploesti oil refinery in Romania. He eventually completed the 25 raids required of enlisted men. But brother Fred was still stuck stateside; Ben asked to fly more raids in his name. He passed a special medical exam that allowed him five more missions. On completion of the thirtieth, during which he suffered a slight wound, he finally was sent home for rest and recuperation.

Once home, the army sent him to Japanese-American internment camps to urge internees to join the fight, but while he was a hero to some, others despised him for helping the government that was holding them prisoner. With the Pacific theater still engulfed in fierce fighting, Ben petitioned the war department to let him fly missions there. No Japanese-Americans were permitted, but eventually Secretary of War Henry Stimson gave Sergeant Ben Kuroki special permission, and he flew 28 more combat missions, the only Japanese American to fly in combat in the Pacific during World War II. He flew on a B-29 Super Fortress that the crew named “Sad Saki” in his honor, a pun on the common “Sad Sack” sobriquet of the day, giving it an ethnic twist to honor their unique crewman. His other nickname - Most Honorable Son.

Kuroki was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, as well as the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters for his missions flown in Europe. He was discharged in 1946 and began what he called his 59th Mission: fighting prejudice and discrimination. He earned a BA in journalism at the University of Nebraska, and worked for several newspapers before retiring in 1984. His outstanding combat record spanning Africa, Europe and the Pacific was finally recognized in 2005 with a Distinguished Service Medal. The University of Nebraska awarded him an honorary doctorate, and PBS created a documentary, Most Honorable Son: Ben Kuroki’s Amazing War Story, which aired in 2007, when he was 90. There are also two biographies of Kuroki and his story is included in several histories.

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