NAPLES, Fla. — Brigadier General (retired) Theodore “Ted” Shigeru Kanamine, who became the first Japanese American active-duty general in the U.S. Army, passed away on March 2 at home. He was 93.
He was born on Aug. 29, 1929 in North Hollywood, where he spent his early childhood with his parents, Thomas and Lucille, and younger sister, Joyce. Due to Executive Order 9066 in early 1942, they had to board a train to the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas when Kanamine was 12.
In 1944, through the War Relocation Authority, his family moved to Omaha, which, in his words, gave the family “something of a normal life again.” He graduated from Omaha Tech High School in 1947 and went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He was a varsity swimmer and graduated with a degree in criminal psychology and then a law degree in 1954. While there, Kanamine was baptized into the Catholic Church. He remained a devout Catholic and a lifelong Cornhuskers fan.
He met Mary Stuben while working at the Omaha Field Club pool and on June 26, 1954 they were married in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
In 1955, Kanamine was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps (MP), and assigned to Garmisch, Germany. What followed was a succession of advancements and family moves. The family moved 21 times in his career.
He was also stationed in Kansas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Georgia, Washington state, Maryland, South Korea and Thailand.
On serving overseas, he said, “My conditions in Korea and Vietnam were somewhat primitive, but other soldiers were much more uncomfortable. At least we had cover from the rain and hot food and showers (cold) to bathe in. Entertainment was a occasional USO group. Otherwise, there were books, magazines and the Stars and Stripes (newspaper).”
Among his career milestones, he was as aide to 4-Star General Creighton Abrams during the Vietnam War, commander of the 716th MP Battalion in Saigon.
“That was the highlight of my career, commanding soldiers in war,” said Kanamine, who was at the Tet Offensive in 1968.
Regarding his most vivid memories of that period, he said, “One of my units was located in Saigon. I was present during the random VC (Viet Cong) rocket attacks on the city — scary! We were busy all night helping victims of the attack — first aid, transporting to hospitals, etc. War is no fun! We must do all we can to avoid war — but if war is the only choice, we must win!”
In 1976, he was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the Army’s first active-duty Japanese American general. In 2012 he was inducted into the Military Police Corps Hall of Fame at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Kanamine was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster; Bronze Star Medal; Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster; Joint Service Commendation Medal; Army Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters; Parachutist Badge; Secretary of Defense Identification Badge; and General Staff Identification Badge.
“My awards and citations were for various tasks associated with my numerous assignments,” he said. “I simply did what was necessary in the very best manner I could.”
In 1981, he and his wife settled in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he immersed himself in volunteer work – city code enforcement board, American Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, and daily helper at Holy Family Catholic Church. He also continued to travel the world visiting friends and family.
In 2020, the couple moved to Naples, Fla. to live with their daughter Laura and her husband Howard Rutizer. Kanamine often said, “Life is not always ‘peaches and cream.’ Tough times and big problems arise, but a close family and good friends can solve almost anything.
“Home and country must be protected. Have the personal discipline to know what is right and develop the skills necessary to do whatever the task is in the best way you know how. This reflects my development in the military and the way I live my life today.”
Kanamine passed peacefully following a brief battle with cancer. He leaves a large and loving legacy in his family, including his wife, Mary; their five children, Ted (and his wife Sara), Mike, David, Laura (and her husband Howard Rutizer), and Linda; a nephew, Gregg Tamai, and his wife Susie; a niece, Katie Takahama; 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
A viewing at Hodges Funeral Home at Naples Memorial Gardens was held on March 12, followed by a funeral mass at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples on March 13 and burial with full military honors at Sarasota Veterans National Cemetery on March 14.
Discover Nikkei provided some biographical details.