At a time when demagogues like Donald Trump would strip some Americans of our birthright -- citizenship if we're born on American soil -- the best definition of an American citizen remains the one enshrined in the 14th Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
But there will always be those who doubt that some of us are "real" Americans. Case in point: Ben Kuroki, whose death at 98 was noted on the obituary pages the other day, was born in Gothenburg, Nebraska, and raised on a farm at Hershey, Nebraska.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, he and his brother volunteered to defend their country. But they were the children of Japanese immigrants, and the first recruiting station they visited turned them down as security risks. That didn't stop them. They hopped into their car and drove 150 miles to find a recruiter who would let them sign up. And a heroic adventure began.
At the time, Army Air Force regulations banned soldiers of Japanese ancestry from flying -- but Ben Kuroki somehow managed to join a bomber crew that would fly 58 missions over Europe, North Africa and finally Japan. His service record included a raid on the heavily defended Nazi oil fields at Ploesti (in Romania) in August of 1943 -- a raid that cost the lives of 310 other American fliers. When his plane ran out of fuel on the way back it was forced down in Morocco, where he was captured. But he and his crewmates managed to escape to England.
Rejected when he sought to serve on a B-29 bomber that was to be used in the Pacific, he kept applying. And kept being rejected because of his Japanese ancestry. But after Secretary of War Henry Stimson reviewed his stellar record, an exception was made for Ben Kuroki, who would go on to earn the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and the admiration of all who heard his story.
After the war, Ben Kuroki would go into journalism, which can always use fighters, and wound up as news editor of the Ventura (Calif.) Star-Free Press before retiring in 1984. As he summed up his story, "I had to fight like hell for the right to fight for my own country." And fight he did. For all of us.
And now the Donald Trumps presume to tell us who's entitled to be an American and who isn't. Some of us would just as soon stick with the words of the Fourteenth Amendment, thank you. And the memory of Ben Kuroki, American.