Robert Kuroda’s high school class ring sits on display. Sebastien Roure found the ring, lost in France during World War II, and returned it to the Kuroda family, beginning an international friendship.

Robert Kuroda’s high school class ring sits on display. Sebastien Roure found the ring, lost in France during World War II, and returned it to the Kuroda family, beginning an international friendship. (Hawaii News Now/Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) — When Sebastien Roure found an old mud-caked ring near his village in France two years ago, he could not have guessed it would lead to a Hawaii family being reunited with a lost family heirloom or that he would forge an international friendship that would bring him and his own family to the islands.

In November 2021, Roure found the ring in a forest near Bruyeres, France, and through research was able to determine that it had belonged to Staff Sgt. Robert Kuroda, a member of the famed 442nd Infantry Regiment who died fighting Nazi forces in the area and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Roure managed to find and contact the Kuroda family and returned the ring to them in 2022.

"His sole purpose was to return it to the family, expecting nothing in return," said Kevin Kuroda, one of Robert Kuroda's nephews.

Now, the Kurodas are hosting Roure and his family, who are traveling internationally for the first time, in Hawaii. Roure, who does not speak English, said through an interpreter that he has been struck by how welcoming the Kurodas and the community in Hawaii have been. He has enjoyed learning more about where the ring came from.

Robert Kuroda was born in 1922 to Japanese immigrant parents in Aiea and graduated from Farrington High School in 1940. He was the first in his family to graduate, and his golden class ring was a prized memento.

After the Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. government promptly cracked down on Japanese American communities in Hawaii and the mainland.

Under orders from President Franklin Roosevelt, the Army rounded up Japanese families on the West Coast and sent them to internment camps. Despite the discrimination, when the Army began looking for fresh troops to fight, thousands of Japanese Americans eagerly volunteered to enlist.

The Army raised the 442nd, which was made up mostly of Japanese American volunteers, with a few white and Korean American officers sprinkled in. Despite having ordered the internment, when Roosevelt announced the creation of the unit, he declared "Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."

The 442nd participated in some of the fiercest battles of World War II's Italian campaign and fought its way into France, proving itself as one of the toughest units the Allies had at their disposal. It is still considered one of the most highly decorated units in American military history.

On Oct. 20, 1944, Kuroda was leading his men in an advance to destroy snipers and machine gun nests near Bruyeres, when they began taking heavy fire from a wooded slope. Unable to pinpoint the German machine gun, he made his way through heavy enemy fire to the crest of the ridge, where he got within 10 yards of the machine gun nest and used grenades to take out the German machine gun crew.

After killing the machine gunners, Kuroda got into a firefight with nearby German troops where, according to his Medal of Honor citation, he fired "clip after clip of rifle ammunition, killing or wounding at least three of the enemy."

After firing his last bullet, Kuroda saw an American officer struck by a burst of machine gun fire from another firing position on a nearby hill. He rushed to help the officer only to realize he had been killed. He picked up the officer's submachine gun and made his way through a hail of enemy fire to the second machine gun emplacement and destroyed the position.

As he turned to fire on more enemy soldiers, Kuroda fell to a sniper's bullet.

Fellow soldiers recovered Kuroda’s body, and his remains were returned to his family and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater, but his class ring was lost in the forest in France until Roure came across it 80 years later.

Roure, a history enthusiast, regularly went with friends to search the woods around Bruyeres with metal detectors in areas that they knew soldiers used as staging areas during the war, to look for historical artifacts. When he found the ring, he knew it likely belonged to an American soldier.

Roure put it with other items he found and thought little of it, but when he cleaned up the ring, he began recognizing the figures of palm trees, and he quickly determined it had belonged to a 442nd soldier from Hawaii. The words "Farrington High School " were emblazoned on the ring. Etched in the inner part of the ring was "R. Kuroda."

Specialists in World War II memorabilia told Roure it likely did belong to a member of the 442nd and could be valuable, but he wanted to find the Kuroda family.

"It was the feeling that it should be returned to the family," Roure said.

Searching online and using Google Translate to sift through articles, Roure eventually concluded that it had belonged to Kuroda. He found the Kurodas' auto shop in Waipio, Hawaii, and sent an email in French saying he believed he had found Robert Kuroda's class ring.

At first, the Kurodas were suspicious and wondering whether it was a scam.

Roure reached out to a cousin living in Iowa to help bridge the language gap, assuring the family he was serious, and he sent pictures.

Roure offered to mail them the ring, but at the time, the pandemic was straining mail services, and the Kurodas worried it could get lost. Kevin Kuroda and his wife, Mary Hammond, flew to France in May 2022 to meet them and receive the ring themselves. Hammond, who learned French in high school but is not fluent, was able to bridge the gap.

"That high school French actually paid off," Hammond joked.

Roure hosted the couple and took them hiking around the region. Hammond said many of the people in the area, who knew that Japanese soldiers from Hawaii had played a key role in driving the Nazis from their villages, shouted out "442 Hawaii !" when they saw Kevin Kuroda's Japanese features.

Roure took them to the spot where he found the ring and to the area he believed Robert Kuroda died fighting.

"He showed his kindness," Kevin Kuroda said. "When we left, we just we had this bond, and we said, 'Hey, let's set a goal for you to come visit us in Hawaii,' and we stuck to it."

The Roure family arrived in Hawaii on Friday. Roure has now met much of the Kuroda family, including Kevin Kuroda's father, Robert Kuroda's last surviving brother. He also visited the cemetery at Punchbowl to pay respects to Robert Kuroda.

The two families saw fireworks at Ala Moana and went boogie boarding at Bellows Beach, and they say they have lots planned for the rest of the week.

"I feel like we're part of the family now," Roure said.

(c)2023 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


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