59th MISSION     [ Page 1  |  Page 2 ]

Following Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a conflict between the claims of national security and the civil liberties of Japanese Americans. U.S. intelligence warned of widespread West Coast spying activities backed by the Japanese government. It was of course irrelevant at the time that these warnings turned out to be based on rumors and were almost completely untrue. What mattered is that the rumors were widely believed.

Text image: "I've got one more mission to go. There is still the fight against prejudice and race hatred. I call it my 59th mission."The government could not risk that their intelligence might be false, and after Pearl Harbor an estimated 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Nisei sons and daughters (American citizens) were moved from the west coast by Executive Order 9066 authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt. Most were moved to internment camps in desolate areas hundreds of miles inland. (See "The Internment")

Only Japanese Americans in California, Oregon, and Washington were interned, but a large percentage of the Japanese Americans in the U.S. lived in these three states. And those living in other states were equally regarded with suspicion and subject to discrimination -- as Kuroki quickly discovered once in the service.

It was not as though this were a big surprise. After all, the U.S. had denied citizenship to all Issei (eventually relaxed in 1952, allowing Kuroki's parents to become U.S. citizens) and stopped allowing Japanese immigrants into the country as of 1924.

But the potent situational emotions created by the Pearl Harbor bombing fed into the long-standing mix of racial discrimination and intolerance, creating an inhospitable and dangerous climate for Japanese Americans across the country. It was these long-standing forms of discrimination that Kuroki was referring to when he used a 1946 nationwide radio broadcast to discuss what he called his "59th Mission."

The broad currents of this cultural battle clearly affected Kuroki as he battled to fight for his country (these events are detailed in the "Fighting to Fight" section of this Web site). Put briefly, this widespread intolerance of Japanese Americans ...

  • Made it difficult for Kuroki to enlist to fight for his country

  • Forced him to split up from his brother while stationed in Louisiana

  • Meant that he twice had to fight just to stay on the roster during moves leading to overseas deployment

  • Caused the cancellation of his appearance on a popular radio broadcast

  • Created fear for his personal safety to such an extent that he was afraid to walk down the streets

  • Led to situations like the one where a man refused to share a cab ride with him, despite his Air Corp. uniform and chestful of ribbons

  • Led to regulations like the one prohibiting him from flying a B-29 against Japan

  • Meant that he couldn't leave his Pacific base housing without disguise and an escort for fear of being shot

  • Was behind his most serious war injury, inflicted by a member of his own squadron.

More than 1,000 Japanese Americans in the internment camps volunteered to serve in the military forces, many of these with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Japanese Americans. But this meant that about 18,000 draft-age males in the camps did not choose to volunteer, a sign of the growing resistance to internment in the camps.

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When to Watch

Most Honorable Son premieres
Sept. 17, 2007

Check your local listings.

Buy the Program

Most Honorable Son DVD

Learn about ...

• The Nisei
• The Speech
• The Internment