Ben Kuroki in flight jacket
|Nickname(s)||Most Honorable Son, Sad Saki|
May 16, 1917|
|Died||September 1, 2015
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Forces
|Years of service||1941–1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross (×3)
Air Medal with oak leaf clusters (×5)
Ben Kuroki (May 16, 1917 – September 1, 2015) was the only American of Japanese descent in the United States Army Air Forces to serve in combat operations in the Pacific theater of World War II. He flew a total of 58 combat missions over Japan, Europe and North Africa during World War II.
Ben Kuroki was born in Gothenburg, Nebraska, United States to Japanese immigrants, Shosuke and Naka (née Yokoyama) Kuroki on May 16, 1917. They had 10 children. When he was a year old the Kuroki family relocated to Hershey, Nebraska, where they owned and operated a farm. The Lincoln County town had a population of about 500. He attended Hershey High School and was the Vice-President of his senior class, graduating in 1936.
After the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Ben's father encouraged him as well as his brother Fred Kuroki to enlist in the U.S. Military. The brothers were rejected by the recruiters in Grand Island, so they tried again at North Platte, where their enlistment was processed without any questions — perhaps, as a humorous story suggests, the recruiters thought that Kuroki was a Polish name. Kuroki said this recruiter said nationality was not a problem as he made $2 for every recruit. His brothers Bill and Henry also served in the military during the war.
Assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Group at Fort Myers, Florida, he was told that Japanese Americans would not be allowed to serve overseas. In 1942 Kuroki petitioned his commanding officer and was allowed to work as a clerk for the Eighth Air Force at a base in England. The need for aerial gunners was high and after Kuroki volunteered, he was sent to gunnery school for two weeks and became a dorsal turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator, the most widely produced American heavy bomber to be used by Allied forces in World War II. Kuroki was in a B-24 that crash landed in Spanish Morocco and was captured by Spanish authorities. His crew was released by the Spanish after three months. After the U.S. Department of State secured his release, he returned to England and rejoined his squadron.
On August 1, 1943, he participated in the dangerous bombing mission known as Operation Tidal Wave, an effort to destroy the major oil refinery located in Ploiești, Romania. Kuroki flew 30 combat missions in the European theater, when the regular enlistment only required 25. After a medical review, he was allowed to fly 5 more missions above the mandated enlistment. Kuroki said he did so for his brother Fred, who was still stationed stateside. On his 30th mission he was slightly injured when his gun turret was hit by flak.
During rest and recovery back in the United States, Kuroki was directed by the Army to visit a number of Japanese American internment camps in order to encourage able-bodied males to enlist in the U.S. military. Kuroki was the subject of a number of news articles including one in Time magazine.
Kuroki requested but was denied the opportunity to participate in the Pacific theater. Only after the intervention of Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War was that request granted. Kuroki was later permitted to join the crew of a B-29 Superfortress (who named its plane Sad Saki after Kuroki) in the 484th Squadron, 505th Bombardment Group, 20th U.S. Army Air Force, based on Tinian Island. Kuroki then participated in another 28 bombing missions over mainland Japan and other locations.
Kuroki is the only Japanese American known to have participated in air combat missions in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the war. Kuroki was awarded one Distinguished Flying Cross for his 25 missions in Europe and another for participation in the Ploiești raid. After another 28 missions in the Pacific Theater, Kuroki was awarded a third Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters. By the end of the war, Ben Kuroki had completed 58 combat missions and was promoted to the rank of Technical Sergeant.
The New York Times recalled in an editorial on Dec. 7, 1991, the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, how “Gen. George Marshall asked to meet him; so did Generals Bradley, Spaatz, Wainwright and Jimmy Doolittle.”
Fiercely patriotic, but understanding first hand some of the racial and other inequalities minorities had to endure, after the war Kuroki continued to speak about the need for racial equality and against prejudice. He engaged in a series of speaking tours discussing these issues, which he funded with his own savings and with minor donations, including proceeds from Ralph G. Martin's biography written about him entitled "Boy From Nebraska: The Story of Ben Kuroki".
When asked about his battle to overcome prejudice which almost prevented him from being allowed to participate in overseas aerial combat missions, Kuroki stated, "I had to fight like hell for the right to fight for my own country".
Kuroki later attended the University of Nebraska, attaining a Bachelor's degree in journalism in 1950. He was a reporter and editor for a number of newspapers in several different states, retiring in 1984. On August 12, 2005, Kuroki was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his impressive combat participation during the war and for overcoming numerous incidents of prejudice. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Nebraska on August 13, 2005 and is the subject of the Public Broadcasting Service documentary "Most Honorable Son: Ben Kuroki's Amazing War Story". On September 1, 2015 he died in hospice care in Camarillo, California at the age of 98.
He is survived by his wife, Shige; daughters Julie, Kerry Williams and Kristyn Kuroki; sister Rosemary Ura; four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
|1st Row||Distinguished Service Medal|
|2nd Row||Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters||Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters||Presidential Unit Citation||Good Conduct Medal|
|3rd Row||American Campaign Medal||European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver and three bronze campaign stars||Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze campaign stars||World War II Victory Medal|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ben Kuroki.|
- A pun on "sad sack", a World War II-era phrase; see Sad Sack. Most Honorable Son, PBS.
- Kral, E.A. (2006). "Profile: Ben Kuroki". Nebraska State Education Association. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
- Yenne, Bill. (2007). Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II, p. 137.
- McGowan, Sam, "Most Honorable Son", WWII History, July 2011, pp. 40–47.
- Yenne, p. 138; Sterner, Douglas C. (2007). Go for Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II Who Conquered Germany, Japan, and American Bigotry, p. 124.
- Frank, Abe (2000). "Ben Kuroki". Conscience and the Constitution. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
- "Ben Kuroki, American". Time. 1944-02-07. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
- Yenne, pp. 139-140.
- Yenne, p. 140.
- "Nebraska WWII Hero Ben Kuroki to be Honored at Premiere of NET Television" (pdf). NET Nebraska. 2007-06-28. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
- "Proud to be Ben Kuroki's kind of people". Journal Star. 2007-08-02. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
- Goldstein, Richard (5 September 2015). "Ben Kuroki Dies at 98; Overcame Bias Against Japanese-Americans to Fight for U.S.". New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
- Martin, Ralph G. (1946). Boy from Nebraska: The Story of Ben Kuroki. New York: Harper & Brothers. OCLC 1287006
- Sterner, C. Douglas. (2007). Go for Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II Who Conquered Germany, Japan, and American Bigotry, Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Media. ISBN 978-0-9796896-1-1 OCLC 141855086
- Yenne, Bill. (2007). Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-35464-0
- "Most Honorable Son: Ben Kuroki's Amazing War Story" Official website. Includes a recent photo of Kuroki.
- Family tree