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
Wounded in Solomon Islands, Decorated MIS Nisei also Served in US Special Forces Brigade to Open Burma Road
Myitkyina, Burma. Japanese Americans were prohibited from serving in the Asia Pacific Theater during WW II because they were viewed as disloyal. This prohibition was waived for some 3,000 Nisei linguists, who were desperately needed to serve in a large translation unit in Australia and in small numbers with Army, Marine, Navy and Army Air Corps on the war front and at division headquarters overseas and at stateside locations. Nisei, carrying guns and translators’ paraphernalia, accompanied every infantry and marine invading campaign. Their duty was to translate captured documents and to interrogate prisoners and pass intelligence information to commanders real time to prepare counterattack strategies to win battles and save American lives. Their individual awards of Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor and Air medal are evidence of their front line work. No Nisei was withdrawn or court martialed for supporting the enemy, a testimony of their loyalty.
This is a story of T/Sgt Kazuo Komoto of Sanger, Fresno County California, who was wounded by a Japanese sniper bullet in New Georgia, Solomon Islands. After his recovery he volunteered for the MARS Task Force, a US Special Forces brigade that opened the Burma Road to haul war materiel from Burma to China. Komoto was awarded the Purple Heart Medal in the Solomon Islands, the first MIS member to receive this Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his duty in Burma and the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service.
When Komoto was 9 years old his mother took him and his two other siblings to Okayama Prefecture, Japan. In 1937, following graduation from high school, Komoto began the enrollment process to enter a university, however, with war clouds looming in Japan, he decided instead to return to America, where he worked on the family farm. He was drafted into the US Army in 1941 and, after war began, volunteered to serve in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). He graduated from the MIS Language School at Camp Savage, MN in June 1942. Selected as the team leader for a 10 Nisei language team, they were shipped to Fiji Islands, a way stop to Solomon Islands, a former British Protectorate. With Guadalcanal, also in Solomon Islands, being in the mopping-up stage the new scene of combat was New Georgia.
While on a mission in New Georgia in June 1943, Komoto was shot by a Japanese sniper which tore up his knee. He was placed on a hospital ship where he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. In mid August 1943 Komoto was transferred to a stateside hospital, where he met Eleanor Roosevelt, who was visiting wounded soldiers. Komoto told Mrs. Roosevelt about his family in an internment camp.
In Fall 1943, prior to his next assignment, Komoto was given a 30-day leave, which he spent with his family at Gila River, Arizona, Internment Camp. Komoto was pleased to read a warm letter his mother had received from the undersecretary of war pertaining to his wound. After his leave, Komoto reported for duty at Presidio of Monterey where he was told his next assignment would be the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Viewing that as an MIS tech sergeant he could not fit in an infantry unit, Komoto arranged for an assignment with the MIS Language School in Camp Savage, MN. Major John Aiso, head instructor, assigned Komoto as an instructor. After a period of teaching, Komoto obtained a transfer to the Southeast Asia Translation and interrogation Center (SEATIC), located in New Delhi, India. From there, Komoto applied for and was approved to serve as leader of the 12-man MIS team for the 475th Infantry Regiment of the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional), nicknamed the MARS Task Force.
The MARS Task Force succeeded the Merrill’s Marauders, which had disbanded after the August 3, 1944 capture of Myitkyina with the support of Chinese Nationalist, and Kachin (Burmese) scouts. The capture of Myitkyina was important because it was on the Burma Road and had an all weather airport from which Japanese fighter planes interdicted American planes flying over the hump to transport goods to China.
The MARS Task Force forced the Japanese troops to retreat south of Lashio, Burma, the starting terminal of the Burma Road thus clearing the Burma Road to transport war materiel unimpeded from Lashio to Kunming, China, a distance of 720 miles. The Burma Road was built in 1937 after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. The soldiers of Merrill’s Marauders and the MARS Task Force have the distinction of being the first American soldiers to fight on the Asian continent since the Boxer Rebellion in 1899.
Its mission accomplished, the MARS Task Force disbanded in July 1945 and Komoto returned to SEATIC . He was recommended for field commission in July 1945 and also for a MIS position in China. The war ended on September 2, 1945. Having accumulated enough points for an honorable discharge, Komoto chose that option.
Kazuo Komoto, taken during his later years.
Kazuo Komoto showing his Purple Heart Medal to younger brother Susumu during his visit to Gila River, AZ, internment camp, where his family was interned. Komoto was on leave following hospitalization from wound sustained in combat. Photo courtesy of War Relocation Authority.
Washington, DC. The National Cherry Blossom Parade down Constitution Avenue on April 13, 2019 climaxed three weeks of festivities that involved over a million visitors and residents. The parade, amidst cherry blossoms backdropped by Washington and Jefferson monuments, featured celebrity entertainers, marching bands, elaborate floats, and giant colored balloons,
The Festival commemorates the1912 gift of three thousand cherry trees presented by Yukio Ozaki, Mayor of Tokyo, to Washington, DC. The festival celebrates the enduring friendship between the people of the USA and Japan.
As JAVA has done in previous years, it has participated in two events during this annual Spring Washington, DC extravaganza.
Spring weather greeted Sakura Matsuri festival goers on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Organized by the Japan-America Society of Washington, the Japanese Street Festival offered visitors a delightful look and taste of Japanese culture from shopping at the Ginza Market Place to anime creations at the Japan Now to Okinawan Taiko drumming and JTR Jujitsu performances in the Arts and Culture area and of course a bit of imbibing at the Hakutsuru Sake Tasting Pavilion and the Kirin Ichiban Beer Station. JAVA was thrilled to participate for the 16th year and share our unique story with festival goers, many whom remain unaware of Executive Order 9066 or the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team or the Military Intelligence Service. Linda Bethke-Cyr and Mark Nakagawa coordinated the JAVA booth activities which included handing out complementary copies of the “442nd: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity” and “MIS: Human Secret Weapon.” JAVA members Major General Garrett Yee, USA, along with Noriko Sanefuji, Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Barbara Watanabe, Museum Specialist at the National Museum of Natural History also volunteered to staff the JAVA booth. Booth volunteers not only shared the history of the Japanese American experience during World War II with the steady stream of visitors to JAVA’s booth but also shared the more personal experiences of their families.
While there was much merry making in the streets of downtown DC, JAVA volunteers all agreed they had just as much fun working behind the scenes. Not only did they catch a glimpse of friends and neighbors enjoying the festivities but they cemented friendships as they explained the relevance of JAVA’s mission to festival goers.
Much thanks to JAVA volunteers: Al Goshi, Mark Nakagawa, Linda Bethke-Cyr, Garrett Yee, Noriko Sanefuji and Barbara Watanabe.
Noriko Sanefuji, Garrett Yee, Al Goshi, Mark Nakagawa and Linda Bethke-Cyr
Garrett Yee, Festival Goer, and Mark Nakagawa
Reprinted from JACL WDC Newsletter
It was a beautiful morning as over 100 people gathered on Saturday, April 6, for the 21st Annual Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk. With high energy, Nen Daiko joined us again to open theprogram. The Mount Airy Boy Scout Troop 508 along with Color Guard, retired Lieutenant5 Colonels Marty Herbert and Mark Nakagawa, presented the colors accompanied by Dr. Noriko Hunter singing the national anthem.
DC Chapter Board Youth Co-chair, Ms. Christie Mori, did a great job serving as the Mistress of Ceremonies for the program. Mr. Richard Bradley, Chair of the National Cherry BlossomFestival, gave remarks and joining him was Ms. Diana Mayhew, the Executive Director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Minister Ken Mukai gave greetings on behalf of the Embassy of Japan, accompanied by Ms. Haruna Minoura and her new husband. Also providing greetings were representatives of the co-sponsors; Mr. Larry Oda from the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, Mr. Al Goshi from the Japanese American Veterans Association, and Ms. Georgette Furukawa from the DC Chapter of JACL.
This year’s theme, “Fractured: The Faces of Family Separation”, sought to share stories of families separated in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the similarities to the situation happening now with those seeking asylum in our country today. Mr. Bob Sakaniwa, former JACL representative, moderated the panel which included Mrs. Yuka Fujikura, incarcerated at Tule Lake with her family and Mr. Kham Moua, immigration policy advocate at the Southeast Asia Resource Center.
Bob started off the panel laying a historical perspective during World War II. Yuka shared heartfelt memories of her family, beginning with when her father was taken away early after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her mother remained strong throughout and supported her children’s endeavors, particularly when her brother, Minoru “Min” Yasui, defied curfew and was subsequently arrested and sent to Minidoka. Yuka also talked about her sister, who was able to leave camp to attend college. This left only her and her brother, Homer, at home trying desperately to find a home for their aging cat. Kham then shared the story of his family’s journey to the United States. He further talked about the impact of separation in the broader context of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities today.
After the symbolic ribbon cutting before the Walk, attendees enjoyed more taiko drumming by the Mark H. Rooney Taiko School’s Miyako Troupe.
Color Guard Line Up
On Saturday, January 26, 2019, JAVA members exchanged New Year’s greetings as they gathered at the Harvest Moon Restaurant for an outstanding Winter Quarterly Luncheon. After the Pledge of Allegiance, VP Mark Nakagawa recognized some attendees, including JAVA member and guest speaker, General (GEN) Paul Nakasone, MG Garrett and Maria Yee, JAVA President emeritus Gerald and Nancy Yamada, Dr. James McNaughton, and all of the “first time” luncheon attendees. He then shared memories of some of the JAVA members and supporters who passed away in the past year, and the group observed a moment of silence for all of our members who have departed.
Mary Murakami, widow of WWII veteran Dr. Ray Murakami, shared a wonderful benediction, and all enjoyed fellowship and a tasty meal. As Mark related, the menu selection we enjoyed during the luncheon was originally chosen by the late Grant Ichikawa, recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, and JAVA traditionally enjoys this luncheon menu at its Harvest Moon gatherings. A special surprise treat came for dessert – a birthday cake blazing with 95 candles, provided by Akio Konoshima’s family, Mari and Taro, allowing us to wish Aki “Happy Birthday” in word and song.
Mari shared some details about how Aki and his family were interned in Heart Mountain camp during WWII, his service in the U.S. Army as a linguist in post-war Japan, and his later service as an Army interrogator during the Korean War. Aki went on to serve in the U.S. Government in both the legislative and executive branch as a career civil servant. Aki will be moving to California soon with his daughter Mari, and all will miss seeing him at local JAVA events. GEN Nakasone, presented Aki with his personal organizational coin in recognition of his lifetime of service to the nation.
JAVA Executive Committee member, Rod Azama, introduced GEN Nakasone with highlights from his military career and accomplishments. GEN Nakasone began his presentation with an excerpt from a recent obituary for 99-year-old MIS Veteran Yukio Kawamoto, and observing the functions of WWII MIS Soldiers like Kawamoto continue to be performed by members of today’s Cyber Command and National Security Agency. He spoke eloquently of the enduring nature of the responsibilities for those charged with these types of national security missions. He also spoke movingly about how his father’s MIS service and his family’s journey from Okinawa to Hawai’i and his birthplace in Minnesota led him to his current duties. We are thankful that he and his family, Team Nakasone, are serving our nation. We were inspired and heartened by his message.
GEN Nakasone, Yukio Kawamoto, Mary Murakami, and Aki Konoshima. All serve as examples for us. Along with so many other JAVA members, they have continued to perform the hard work that keeps America a place where “liberty and justice for all” is an enduring standard.