Retired Brig. Gen. Thomas S. Ito, only the fourth Japanese American to be promoted to the rank of general in the U.S. military, died Jan. 26 at the age of 90.
Ito began his military career in 1951 when he joined the Hawai‘i Army National Guard as a field artillery officer. He spent 37 years as a commissioned officer in the National Guard. He also served as deputy adjutant general during his career. Ito retired in 1988.
Gen. Ito played a key role in managing the transition of Mainland National Guard artillery units to solid fuel ground-to-air Nike Hercules missiles as a deterrent against long-range Soviet bombers during the Cold War. From 1962 to 1966, he was on active duty as a major assigned to the Pentagon to manage the multimillion-dollar conversion of National Guard Nike Ajax on the Mainland to the Nike Hercules missile system. The Nike missile program was terminated in 1974 when intercontinental ballistic missiles were introduced.
Retired Hawai‘i Army National Guard chief of staff Col. Gerald Silva remembered 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 traditionally been handled by active Army units.” Silva said the Hawai‘i National Guard operated missile sites on O‘ahu that were “the centerpiece of the Hawai‘i Air Defense system.” The units achieved national recognition. “In partnership with the Hawai‘i Air National Guard’s fighter units, Hawai‘i became the first area in the United States where the complete air defense system was operated by the National Guard,” Silva said.
Ito was born in Honolulu and graduated from Mid-Pacific Institute and the University of Hawai‘i.
Memorial services for Gen. Ito were held March 12. He is survived by his wife Doris and three children: daughters Merrie Chung and Alison Kevern and son Wendell. — Gregg K. Kakesako