Most Honorable Son on PBS World

Most Honorable Son on PBS World

Fri, 05/28/2010 - 9:00pm
On his 30th mission over Munster, Germany, flak hit Kuroki's top turret. He lost his oxygen mask and became delirious. The pilot realized something was wrong when Kuroki's guns kept firing after the enemy threat had passed. Crewmen had to fight to pull him from his turret. Kuroki was revived, and the plane returned to base without incident. Though Kuroki didn't suffer a scratch, the evidence of the impact on the turret itself is visible in this picture.

Credit: Courtesy Ben Kuroki

The story of the first WWII Japanese-American war hero.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Nebraska farmer Ben Kuroki volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps. He would become the first Japanese-American war hero, surviving 58 missions as an aerial gunner over Europe, North Africa and Japan. Between tours of duty he found himself at the center of controversy — a lone spokesman against the racism faced by the thousands of Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps. Through interviews and rare, never-before-seen film, MOST HONORABLE SON recounts one man's remarkable journey through World War II, providing context to two seemingly disparate histories — the U.S. air war and the Japanese-American experience.

Most Honorable Son airs Friday, May 28 at 9 p.m. on PBS World (cable 524/DT21.2).

During World War II, most Japanese Americans were evacuated from the West Coast, placed in internment camps and suspected of disloyalty to the United States - the only country most of them had ever known. However, some Japanese Americans fought and died together as U.S. soldiers on the battlefields of Europe to prove their loyalty, and Ben Kuroki - the first Japanese-American war hero - was a gunner in the Army Air Corps.

Ben Kuroki, the lone Japanese American in the Air Corps, flew harrowing missions over Europe and Japan. In between his tours of duty, he faced discrimination, reluctant fame and controversy. "That was what my whole war was about," said Kuroki. "I didn't want to be called a Jap."

Ben Kuroki, now 90 years old, is a Nebraska-born nisei (a first generation American of Japanese descent) who volunteered for the Army after Pearl Harbor was attacked. While other nisei in the armed services were discharged, Kuroki stayed on with an elite B-24 bomber unit. His exploits are riveting: He was captured by the Spanish in North Africa, where he attempted escape dressed as an Arab; he flew an incredible 30 missions during his tour in Europe, including the disastrous raid on the Ploesti, Rumania, oil field; and he was the only nisei to fly raids on Japan, surviving 28 missions in a B-29 bomber.

"Of all the strange coincidences of my army career, I was probably the first Japanese American to return to the West Coast since the evacuation," said Kuroki. In San Francisco in 1943, he addressed the prestigious Commonwealth Club, giving a speech that some said turned the tide against racism directed at Japanese Americans.

Kuroki had become a celebrity, and he was sent to the internment camps to convince fellow nisei to go along with the U.S Army's effort to draft them. Kuroki said, "The armed guards were wearing the same uniforms I was wearing. I was really quite shocked to see my own people in those internment camps like that." While Kuroki was honored as a hero by some nisei, others saw him as a tool of the government. They resented being forced into combat by the same government that had taken away their freedom and civil rights.

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