The Boy from Nebraska (book)


Title The Boy from Nebraska
Author Ralph G. Martin
Original Publisher Harper & Brothers
Original Publication Date 1946
Pages 208

Brief biography of Ben Kuroki, Nisei war hero, by Ralph G. Martin and published in late 1946 when Kuroki was arguably the best known Japanese American.

After a brief introduction by Bill Mauldin that makes the case that Kuroki's story represents the larger story of Nisei as well as other American racial minorities, the book begins with Kuroki's return to his home in Hershey, Nebraska. We meet his family and siblings and learn of his early life in flashbacks as he explores the family farm and small town where he is treated as a hero. After four chapters take us through high school and his stint as a trucker, the books shifts in style to more conventional third person narrative in taking us through his enlistment, the rampant discrimination he faces during basic training, and the gradual sense of acceptance he receives as he bonds with crew members on his flight crew. We follow him through his thirty missions in Europe—interrupted by a stint as a POW in Spain—a brief interlude in the U.S. where he is both treated as a hero and faced with continuing discrimination, then his decision to fly 28 more missions over Japan, before ending with the realization that his 59th mission is to tell his story in the hope that full equality for Japanese Americans and other minorities can be realized. The book is fairly light on details of battles and bombing missions, instead focusing on the camaraderie of the soldiers and of Kuroki's battles with recurring racism and with his own doubts that doing what is he doing will really make a difference.

Author Martin had been a war reporter for Stars and Stripes and Yank during the war and was an assistant editor with the New Republic when the book was published. Kuroki told his story to Martin, who recalled, "I don't have to do any work on the plot—that was all there. It just had to be brought out of Ben. It's Ben's story—the whole thing." Published on October 9, 1946, it had sold 8,000 copies in three months. The New York Post ran a condensed version of the book as a serial.

Mainstream reviews of Boy from Nebraska were uniformly positive, with Kirkus Reviews going so far as to suggest that it "might might be called a companion piece to [Richard Wright's] Black Boy." As was commonly the case for reviewers of the time, many reviewed the treatment of Japanese Americans as much as the book itself, expressing support for the fight against prejudice. Both Larry Tajiri and Bill Hosokawa gave it rave reviews in the Pacific Citizen.[1]

Kuroki's story remained a well-known one throughout the postwar years and has received two more recent treatments: the children's book "Lucky Ears: The True Story of Ben Kuroki, World War II Hero (Grand Island, Nebr.: Field Mouse Productions, 2010) by Jean A. Lukesh and the 2007 documentary film Most Honorable Son.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

Reviews

Breed, Eleanor. "Nisei Goes to War." San Francisco Chronicle This World, Oct. 20, 1946, 16.

Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 14, 1946, 12.

Hosokawa, Bill. From the Frying Pan: Reading 'The Boy from Nebraska.'" Pacific Citizen, Nov. 16, 1946, 5.

Kirkus Reviews, Oct. 9, 1946.

Library Journal, Oct. 1, 1946.

Miller, Merle. "The War to Fight a War." Saturday Review of Literature, Nov. 9, 1946, 18.

Morse, J. Mitchell. "Nisei from Nebraska." The New York Times Book Review, Nov. 3, 1946, 18.

Tajiri, Larry. "Ralph Martin Writes an Exciting Biography of a Nisei Hero." Pacific Citizen, Oct. 12, 1946, 5.

Footnotes