By Betsy WeinerDecember 30, 2010
HONOLULU - A man described as being one of the greatest Army communicators, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas M. Rienzi, 91, was laid to rest Dec. 30 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific after receiving full military honors.
Rienzi died Dec. 15 at Tripler Army Medical Center.
Rienzi was the former deputy director general, chief of staff, and chief engineer of NATO Integrated Communications Systems Management Agency (NICSMA) in Brussels, Belgium when he retired in 1979.
"He was one of the greatest of the Great Generation," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, during his condolences to the family. "And frankly, I'm humbled to be able to honor him today. He loved Soldiers - those he commanded and those he taught, his cadets at West Point. He always took the time to develop those who served him and was deeply committed to them."
Mixon noted that Rienzi's service to the nation and community continued after his retirement from the military in 1979 by lobbying for veterans health, rights, adding that "he never gave up on serious issues." At the ceremony Rienzi's daughter, Sherri Bulkley received citations honoring her father from Hawaii State Representative Gene Ward, Governor Neil Abercrombie and President Barack Obama.
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. "What a marvelous career of service," Mixon said. "I am honored to have known him."
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.
"He was my mentor at West Point," said retired Lt. Col. Leonard Katsarasky, U. S. Military Academy at West Point, class of 1959. "He was in charge of the first month of our training and he was a wonderful instructor - our role model and mentor. He never stopped serving and was always teaching and mentoring Soldiers. His life service, both to his country and as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church made him a pillar of the community. He was a class act."
After retiring to Hawaii in 1979, Rienzi 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.
He 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.
"Lt. Gen. Rienzi was truly a pioneer in the communication technology business," said Brig. Gen. William Scott, commander of the 311th Signal Command, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "He helped develop what we rely on today insofar as our advanced electronic technology is concerned."
"And, with all that, he never stopped serving Soldiers," Scott said. "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."
He is survived by his daughter, Sherri Bulkley; three grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.