FIGHTING TO FIGHT [ Page 1 | Page 2 ]
Kuroki later said, "For the first time since Pearl Harbor, I felt that I belonged. Words cannot describe how great it felt to be accepted and respected. There was no bigotry among crewmen. Nobody questioned your religion or your ancestry."
World War II bomber crews typically had to fly 25 missions before they qualified for return to the home front. But following his 25th mission, Kuroki surprised his fellow crew members by asking to fly additional missions. Doctors agreed he could continue flying missions, but only five more. He flew the additional missions in honor of his brother Fred, who was not allowed to serve overseas.
Battling the War Department to fight in the Pacific
There was little “R&R” for Kuroki back in the U.S. He gave several talks, including his historic address to San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club (see discussion in the "59th Mission" section). The War Department wanted Kuroki to try to turn around the growing draft resistance in the Japanese American internment camps, so he was ordered to visit three of them and give speeches. The response to Kuroki’s visits were mixed, however, and he left feeling badly about camp conditions.
Kuroki decided he wanted to return to combat, flying the new B-29s to bomb Japan. Initially assigned to the Salina, Kansas Air Base, by the end of summer 1944 he began training at a B-29 Superfortress air base near Harvard, Nebraska. And then he learned that a War Department rule restricted Japanese Americans from flying in the B-29s against Japan.
By now Kuroki understood how these things worked. He did not discourage colleagues, friends and acquaintances from sending letters and telegrams to the War Department, urging them to exempt Kuroki from this rule.
Finally, following a telegram from Nebraska Rep. Carl Curtis to Sec. of War Henry Stimson, in November 1944 Kuroki received what he called his "passport to combat," a letter from Stimson granting him an exemption from the rule "by reason of his splendid record." Soon he was to become the first and only Japanese American with the Army Air Corps to serve in active air combat against the Japanese mainland.
Unbelievably, Kuroki's path to the Pacific still was not clear of obstacles. Federal officials twice questioned him about his presence near the B-29, once at the Kearney, Nebraska AFB and once at the Mather, California AFB. Each time he was required to produce the letter from Stimson. At Mather, his B-29 pilot, Lt. Jim Jenkins, became so irate at the continuing harassment that he simply taxied down the runway and took off for the Pacific theater when officials tried to approach the plane one last time to question Kuroki.
Falling in battle (but not to the enemy)
Ironically, Kuroki's most serious injury during the war was not inflicted by the enemy.
From the moment he landed on Tinian, the Marianas Island where he was to be stationed for the bombing of Japan, he had been warned that the marines on the base were inclined to "shoot first and ask questions later" where any Japanese-looking individuals might be concerned.
Kuroki's fellow crewmen took a variety of protective measures, from requiring him to wear a helmet and dark glasses to physically surrounding himself with other crew member anytime he had to be outdoors (including the latrine). During his first month there, Kuroki said, he actually felt safer while flying missions.
In the end it was not the enemy but a drunken fellow squadron member with an Army-issue knife who finally brought Kuroki down. Kuroki: "He made the statement that Nebraska Japs can't fight. I took offense to that because that was what my whole war was about -- I didn't want to be called a 'Jap.' Then whammo, right across the top of my head without warning and boy I was down and bleeding all over the place... Just a fraction of an inch more and I wouldn't be here today."
While Kuroki was recovering in the hospital, 24 stitches holding his scalp together, the Enola Gay detonated its atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Three days later another was loosed over Nagasaki -- within a few days the war was over.
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