Brig. Gen. Thomas S. Ito, who played a key role during the Cold War managing the transition of mainland National Guard artillery units to solid fuel ground-to-air Nike Hercules missiles as deterrent against long-range Soviet bombers, has died. When Ito was promoted to brigadier general in 1977, he became the fourth Japanese American to become a general in the U.S. military.
Ito, 90, spent 37 years as a commissioned officer in the Hawaii Army National Guard, retiring in 1988. He died Jan. 26. Memorial services were held March 12. Private burial will be at the National Cemetery of the Pacific. His survivors include his widow, Doris; and three children-- Merrie Chung; Wendell; and Alison Kevern.
Retired Hawaii Army National Guard Chief of Staff Col. Gerald Silva remembers Ito “as a pioneer when he served at the National Guard Bureau in the Pentagon (in the 1960s). He was one of the rising stars at the national level when Army National Guard units across the country took on the active air defense of their areas--a role that had been traditionally been handled by Active Army units. Tom was a key player in helping with that transition nationwide. On the mainland, some Guard units took over older liquid-fueled Nike Ajax systems. In Hawaii, the Hawaii Army National Guard was one of the first organizations in the nation to field the state-of-the-art, solid-fueled Nike Hercules missiles (in 1960).”
Silva recalled that the Hawaii National Guard operated missile sites on Oahu that were “the centerpiece of the Hawaii Air Defense system. The units went on to
achieve national recognition--to including setting a world record for the
longest intercept of a target drone. The record was set by a Hawaii Army National Guard unit in Kahuku and the missile was launched from a launch pad located on the
grounds now occupied by the Turtle Bay resort. “
The Hawaii Army Guard also set a precedent in the country when they took
over the command and control responsibilities for the missile sites -- staffing the command post deep underground in Kunia, Silva said. “In partnership
with the Hawaii Air National Guard's fighter units, Hawaii became the first
area in the United States where the complete air defense system was operated
by the National Guard.”
Ito and Silva served in the 298th Air Defense Group, which was the first in the country to be armed with 72 nuclear capable Nike Hercules missiles as a defense against Soviet bombers. The unit had four lethal missile launch sites on Oahu – Palehua, Bellows Air Force Station, Dillingham Air Force Base and the Kahuku Training Area. Ito spent four years on active duty from 1962-66 as a major assigned to the Pentagon to manage the multi-million dollar conversion of mainland National Guard Nike Ajax to the Nike Hercules missile system. The Nike missile program was terminated in 1974 when intercontinental ballistic missiles were introduced.
Ito was born in 1928. He graduated from Mid-Pacific and the University of Hawaii in 1952. He joined the Hawaii Army National Guard as a field artillery officer in 1951. He also served as deputy adjutant general.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.
BG Thomas S. Ito