Two Vietnam veterans meet again
The Hon. Max Cleland (left) and retired Lt. Gen. Tom Rienzi greet each other at the 2010 Veteran's Day ceremony at the National Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu. Rienzi, 91, passed away at Tripler Army Medical Center Dec. 14. He was a World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veteran, commanded Cleland during Vietnam and served as the deputy commander of the 1st Signal Brigade. Cleland was Rienzi's chief of staff in Vietnam. (U.S. Army photo by B.J. Weiner).

HONOLULU - There is an old Army maxim: "The communicators are the first ones in and the last ones out."

One of the last great Army communicators, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Rienzi, former Deputy Director General, Chief of Staff, and Chief Engineer of NATO Integrated Communications Systems Management Agency (NICSMA) in Brussels, Belgium, died Dec. 14 at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii. He was 91.

"Lt. Gen. Rienzi was truly a pioneer in the communication technology business," said Brig. Gen. William Scott, commander of the311th Signal Command, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "He helped develop what we rely on today insofar as our advanced electronic technology is concerned.

"Moreover, he remained engaged throughout life. He loved to mentor and teach young Soldiers and they flocked to him because of his openness and integrity. He was an inspirational leader who will be missed by many people."

While in the military, Rienzi studied at Roman Catholic seminaries in Washington, D.C., and Louvain, Belgium, in order to become a Roman Catholic deacon. Terrance Cardinal Cooke ordained Rienzi in April 1979 at Heidelberg, Germany. After he retired from the U.S. Army in July 1979, Rienzi returned to Hawaii and served as a deacon in the Honolulu Diocese in parish and hospital ministries at Tripler Army Medical Center for 13 years.

Don DeVaney, Tripler Army Medical Center provost marshal and Rienzi's honorary aide-de-camp for 25 years, said, "He was a giant of a man both in stature and heart. He worked here as a deacon and administered to wounded and sick Soldiers of all faiths. He had a personality to match his heart and will be missed. The Army has lost a great friend."

Rienzi served in three wars during his distinguished career: World War II, Korean and Vietnam. During World War II, he served as the commander, 96th Signal Battalion, in China, Burma and India. In 1945, he attended the Command and General Staff College and taught at the Fort Monmouth, N.J., Signal School.

After completing his master's degree in electrical engineering in 1948, he was assigned to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base, N.M. He trained atomic weapons technicians, and planned and helped implement more than 40 detonations. In 1955, he served as a tactical instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

In 1957, he took command of the 51st Signal Battalion in South Korea, and became the I Corps Signal Officer. He spent three years in Hawaii in Joint Planning and Army Logistics at the senior U.S. headquarters in Hawaii.

From 1961 to 1963, Rienzi served as the signal officer for XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., the sole airborne Signal Corps in the world. His next few assignments included executive officer to the chief signal officer and chief of Communications-Electronics, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C.; U.S. Army Materiel Command's chief of the Combat Surveillance Office; and commandant of the U.S. Army Signal Center and School, Fort Monmouth.

During the Vietnam War in February 1969, Rienzi served as the deputy commanding general of the 1st Signal Brigade in Vietnam while also serving as the deputy chief of Staff for Communications and Electronics in Vietnam. In June 1970, he assumed command of the U.S. Army Strategic Communications Command-Pacific, serving concurrently as the assistant chief of staff, Communications-Electronics, U.S. Army Pacific, at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.

In June 1972, he became the director of Telecommunications and Command and Control, Department of the Army, as planner, programmer and policy maker for the U.S. Army's command and control and communications systems.

He was promoted to lieutenant general on Aug. 1, 1977, and assumed duties as deputy director general, chief of staff, and chief engineer of NATO Integrated Communications Systems Management Agency (NICSMA).

He also served for many years as chairman of the Army's Retirement Council of Hawaii and as the state recruiter for the U.S. Military Academy, and commander of the Hawaii Basha (Chapter) of the China, Burma, and India Veterans.

Rienzi received the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) International Meritorious Service Award and is a life member of AFCEA, and an active member of the Hawaii Chapter of AFCEA.

Additionally, he was a member of the Pearl Harbor Rotary Club. As a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher, he participated in its worldwide activities. He was awarded the Medical Corps' Award of Merit for his pastoral work as a Catholic deacon for the hospital staff at Tripler Army Medical Center. As a Signal Corps veteran, Rienzi was a Distinguished Member of the Signal Regiment.

He is survived by his daughter, Sherri Bulkley; three grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

Funeral services will be held Dec. 27. Visitation and eulogies are scheduled at the 9 a.m. Dec. 27 Mass at Star of the Sea, Waialae-Kahala East Honolulu Vicariate. Rienzi will be inurned 9:30 a.m. Dec. 30 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl).

Page last updated Fri December 17th, 2010 at 22:02