FIGHTING TO FIGHT [ Page 1 | Page 2 ]
Although Kuroki badly wanted to be a part of the U.S. war effort, the War Department didn't make it easy for him. Official regulations and cultural attitudes created continuing obstacles, from his initial enlistment in Nebraska through his final deployment in the European and Pacific theatres.
Trying to enlist
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed the U.S. declared war on Japan. Ben and brother Fred wanted to enlist and “Sam” Kuroki, Ben’s father, gave them his blessings to fight for their country.
They went to the U.S. Army recruiting station in nearby North Platte, passed their physicals and waited. After a week or so, not having even been contacted about their attempted enlistment, Ben heard a radio report that the Army Air Corps was taking enlistments at Grand Island, Nebraska.
Ben telephoned to ask if ancestry was a problem and the folksy recruiting sergeant replied, “Heck, no, I get two bucks for everyone I sign up.” Ben and Fred quickly drove the 150 miles to Grand Island and pledged their allegiance to the United States, becoming a part of the U.S. Army Air Corp.
As it turned out, the War Department just didn’t know what to do about Nisei trying to enlist, and by the time they decided to order recruiting stations to classify all Nisei as "undraftable enemy aliens," Ben and Fred were in.
The struggle for overseas deployment
While completing basic training Ben was assigned to serve 21 consecutive days and nights on kitchen duty. He felt he was being discriminated against, but knew that he dare not complain -- by this time his brother Fred had already been transferred out of the Air Corps and into a ditch-digging unit.
After basic training, Kuroki attended clerk-typist school at Ft. Logan, Colorado, then was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Group forming at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. While preparing to move to Fort Myers, Florida in preparation for overseas deployment, Kuroki was inexplicably dropped from the roster.
Kuroki begged 409th Squadron Adjutant Charles Brannan to be taken along so that he could do his part to help shorten the war. Brannon saw Kuroki's unwavering determination and put Kuroki back on the roster. The Adjutant later said, "[Kuroki] wanted to fight as bad as anybody that ever put on the American uniform."
In August 1942 the 93rd’s air echelon had already advanced to Grenier Field, New Hampshire. This was to be the jumping off point for history’s first formation crossing of the North Atlantic, but Kuroki's plans were interrupted when he learned he had once again been dropped from the roster of those headed closer to combat. Again the 409th’s Lieutenant Brannan intervened, phoning the New Hampshire group commander to insure Kuroki's inclusion.
When the 409th Squadron of the 93rd Group was ordered overseas to a base in England, Kuroki went along as a clerk. But at least he had made it overseas as part of the first B-24 Liberator bomb group.
Working to get on a flight crew
Kuroki got his chance soon enough. Gunners on the B-24s would occasionally "freeze up" psychologically, leaving them dangerous to themselves and to their crewmates. Kuroki put himself in position to fill one of these slots by volunteering for a two-week school on the .50 caliber machine gun. By December 1942 his squadron had ran through its supply of assigned gunners and Kuroki was tentatively assigned as a gunner to a B-24 combat crew piloted by Lt. Jake Epting of Tupelo, Mississippi. Epting asked the crew whether anybody objected to bringing Kuroki onboard -- nobody did. Kuroki was to remain a gunner for the rest of the war.
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