Ben Kuroki, WWII Hero, dies at age 98
Ben Kuroki, the celebrated World War II hero who was the only Japanese-American to fly over Japan during the war, has died at his home in Camarillo, California, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times report. He was 98.
Raised on a farm in Hershey, Nebraska by his Japanese immigrant parents, Kuroki and his brother, Fred, quickly volunteered for service following the bombings in Pearl Harbor. Both brothers were rejected by their first recruiter, per the American military policy that did not allow Japanese.
Ben and Fred persisted because, as Kuroki described his experience in an interview for The Omaha World-Herald during the conflict, "I have the face of a Japanese but my heart is American."
According to the Associated Press, the brothers then drove 150 miles to the next recruiter who allowed them to sign up for service. Kuroki then set his sights on another challenge: becoming an airman despite an Army Air Corp ban that prohibited soldiers of Japanese ancestry from flying.
Kuroki earned his chance when, while serving as a clerk at an Army Air Corp base in England, he volunteered from training as a desperately-needed aerial gunner. From there, he quickly earned a stellar service record, flying 58 bomber missions over Europe, North Africa and Japan during the war. His assignments to the Pacific, originally rejected because of his ancestry, were approved by Secretary of War Harry Stimson.
After the war, Kuroki received a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska in 1950 and worked as a journalist until his 1984 retirement as the news editor of the Ventura Star-Free Press.
In 2005, Kuroki's combat efforts and work overcoming prejudice earned him 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 now I feel vindication.