Today in Asian American Pacific Islander Transportation History – 1917: An Aviation Pioneer is Born

Aviation pioneer Ben Kuroki was born in Gothenburg, Nebraska. His parents were Japanese immigrants. Kuroki grew up in the Cornhusker State, graduating from high school in 1936.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Kuroki’s father encouraged both him and his brother Fred to join the U.S. military. The brothers were turned down at the first place in Nebraska where they sought to enlist, but they were allowed to sign up for military service at another recruitment station in the state. (Two other brothers, Bill and Henry, would likewise serve in the U.S. military during the course of World War II.)

Ben Kuroki was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) at Fort Myers, Florida. While initially encountering racial prejudice that nearly prevented him from serving overseas, Kuroki ended up flying as a fighter pilot in the skies above Europe and North Africa.

Kuroki’s request to likewise serve as a pilot in the Pacific Theater was rejected at first, but ultimately he was allowed to do so after U.S. War Secretary Henry Stimson intervened. Kuroki became the only American of Japanese descent to serve in USAAF combat operations in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

By the end of that global conflict, Kuroki had completed a total of 58 combat missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times. Kuroki was also honored with the Distinguished Service Medal, which was given to him in 2005 in recognition of his wartime accomplishments in the face of considerable discrimination. In addition, Kuroki was inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame. He died in 2015 at the age of 98.

For more information on Ben Kuroki, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Kuroki and his 5 September 2015 New York Times obituary at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/ben-kuroki-dies-at-98-fought-bias-to-fight-for-us.html

 

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