Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Eugene “Gene” Imai, whose military and government career spanned more than three decades, including service in Vietnam and as commander of the Hawai‘i Army National Guard, died Jan. 28 at the Arcadia Retirement Residence after a long illness. He was 72 years old.

According to the Japanese Americans Veterans Association, Imai was one of only 12 Japanese Americans nationwide to have achieved the rank of two-star general in the U.S. Army. He retired in 1999 after 32 years of service.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Lister, for whom Imai served as chief of staff at Fort Shafter as an Army Reserve colonel from 1988 to 1991, described Imai as a “pragmatic” leader who had “the wisdom to realize that, while having grand plans, sometimes you have to settle for the smaller advances that will just make the situation a bit better.”

“Gene not only would speak up when others were reluctant, but he had a way of disagreeing with you without the slightest hint of disloyalty or insubordination,” said Lister. “In fact, if you went against his advice, Gene would then very loyally and thoroughly support the decision he had just spoken out against.

“I once told Gene that I thought that he could tell me to ‘Go to hell’ and make me think I was going to enjoy the trip. Gene was always searching for the way to make things better. ‘Good enough’ wasn’t his motto.”

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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.


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