Ben Kuroki: Airman who fought to become the only Japanese American to fly over Japan in the Second World War

The US Army Air Forces banned soldiers of Japanese ancestry from flying, but Kuroki still managed to fly 58 missions over Europe, North Africa and Japan

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The Independent Online

Ben Kuroki overcame the US military's discriminatory policies to become the only Japanese American to fly over Japan during the Second World War. The son of Japanese immigrants, he was raised on a Nebraska farm and volunteered with his brother Fred after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Initially rejected by recruiters who questioned their loyalty, the brothers drove 150 miles to another recruiter who allowed them to sign up. At the time, the US Army Air Forces banned soldiers of Japanese ancestry from flying, but Kuroki managed to join a bomber crew and flew 58 missions over Europe, North Africa and Japan. He took part in the August 1943 raid over Nazi oil fields in Ploesti, Romania, that killed 310 fliers in his group. He was captured after his plane ran out of fuel over Morocco, but escaped with crewmates to Britain.

He was initially rejected when he asked to serve on a B-29 bomber that was to be used in the Pacific. But after repeated requests and a review of his service record, the Secretary of War granted an exception. Crewmates nicknamed him "Most Honorable Son", and he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. He was saluted by Time in 1944 under the headline "HEROES: Ben Kuroki, American" – at a time when thousands of Japanese Americans were in internment camps.

After the war Kuroki graduated in journalism, eventually becoming news editor of the Ventura Star-Free Press. In 2005, he received the US Army Distinguished Service Medal. "I had to fight like hell for the right to fight for my own country," he said at the award ceremony. "And I now feel vindication."

Ben Kuroki, airman: born Gothenburg, Nebraska 16 May 1917; married Shige (three daughters); died 1 September 2015.

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