University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications alumnus Ben Kuroki died at 98 years old in Camarillo, California. He was a decorated Japanese-American gunner in the Army Air Forces during World War II, who was honored in the United States at a time when tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were confined to internment camps as supposed security risks.
While many Japanese-Americans served with distinction in the Army’s ground forces, the Air Forces had not wanted any Japanese-Americans, including Ben Kuroki. He nonetheless became an airman and took part in raids over Europe and North Africa, then after receiving special permission from the War Department, over Japan.
Kuroki received three Distinguished Service Crosses, and in 2005 a campaign by veterans he served with brought Kuroki the Distinguished Service Medal.
Kuroki was born in Gothenburg, Nebraska, on May 16, 1917 to Japanese immigrant parents and was raised in Hershey, Nebraska, in a farm family with 10 brothers and sisters. Soon after the U.S. entered World War II, he and his brother Fred enlisted in the Army Air Forces. Though it was rejecting Japanese-American enlistments, a draft board official signed the brothers up.
Fred Kuroki was transferred to the Army engineers, but Ben Kuroki’s passion for flying that he was allowed to go overseas. He ultimately flew on 58 bombing mission, 28 of which over Japan.
“I have the face of a Japanese, but my heart is American,” Sergeant Kuroki was quoted saying by the Omaha World-Herald when he learned he was to be allowed to fly over Japan, according to the New York Times.
While he was home on leave during the war, Kuroki visited internment camps to speak of his service to the nation and inspire those Japanese-Americans who were demonized by wartime passions.
In the final weeks of the war, a drunken serviceman stabbed Kuroki in the head in his barracks because he was enraged by Kuroki’s Japanese background. A fellow airman intervened to save him.
Kuroki received a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska after the war and was a publisher, editor and reporter for small newspapers.