Ben Kuroki was born in Gothenburg, Nebraska, United States on May 16, 1917 and died on September 1, 2015.
He 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 during World War II.
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.
Technical Sergeant Ben Kuroki with Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross (×3) and Air Medal with oak leaf clusters (×5).
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 Ploesti, 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.
He is the only Japanese American known to have participated in air combat missions in the Pacific theater of operations during the war.
Ben Kuroki was awarded one Distinguished Flying Cross for his 25 missions in Europe and another for participation in the Ploesti raid.
After another 25 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.
Fiercely patriotic, but understanding first hand some of the racial and other inequalities minorities had to endure, Kuroki continued to speak about the need for racial equality and against prejudice.
Kuroki 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”.
American bomber pilot Ben Kuroki died at age 98.