Thomas Rienzi

Last updated
Thomas Matthew Rienzi
Nickname(s) "Big Tom"
Born(1919-02-15)February 15, 1919
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died(2010-12-15)December 15, 2010
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Buried National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
AllegianceFlag of the United States (Pantone).svg United States of America
Service/branchFlag of the United States Army (official proportions).svg  United States Army
Years of service 1942-1972
Rank US Army O9 shoulderboard rotated.svg Lieutenant general
Unit U.S. Army Signal Corps
Commands held 96th Signal Battalion (1942-45), 1st Signal Brigade (1968-70)
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War

Thomas Matthew "Big Tom" Rienzi (February 15, 1919 December 15, 2010) was a major general in the U.S. Army Signal Corps who served during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War. He implemented the modernization of Signal units from the usage of just wire and radio, through the growth of strategic satellite communications, to the integration of computer systems at even the tactical level.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Korean War 1950–1953 war between North Korea and South Korea

The Korean War was a war between North Korea and South Korea. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following a series of clashes along the border.

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.


Early life and education

Rienzi was born on February 5, 1919 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of successful clothiers Luigi and Ethel Rienzi. Graduating from West Catholic High School, he accepted an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1942. From there, he was assigned to the Army Signal Corps. [1]

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, sometimes known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2017 census-estimated population of 1,580,863. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.


World War II

After graduating from Fort Monmouth’s Signal school he was assigned to the China-Burma-India Campaign. From there he was transferred to command the 96th Signal Battalion of the 96th Infantry Division. In 1945 he attended the Command & General Staff College, then taught at the Signal School in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. [2]

Fort Monmouth

Fort Monmouth is a former installation of the Department of the Army in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The post is surrounded by the communities of Eatontown, Tinton Falls and Oceanport, New Jersey, and is located about five miles (8.0 km) from the Atlantic Ocean. The post covers nearly 1,126 acres (4.56 km2) of land, from the Shrewsbury River on the east, to Route 35 on the west; this area is referred to as 'Main Post'. A separate area to the west includes post housing, a golf course, and additional office and laboratory facilities. A rail line, owned by Conrail, runs through Camp Charles Wood and out to Naval Weapons Station Earle. The post is like a small town, including a Post Exchange (PX), health clinic, gas station and other amenities. Until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the post was open to the public to drive through; after that time, the post was closed to all but authorized personnel. The main road through the fort was reopened to the public in 2017.

Interwar Years

Rienzi returned from World War II to his hometown and married Clare Moore in 1946. They would later have two children, Thomas Rienzi, Jr. and daughter Sherri. He received his master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1948. [3] Assigned to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base, New Mexico, he trained atomic weapons technicians, planning and implementing over 40 test detonations. He then served as a tactical instructor at West Point in 1955. In 1957 the family was assigned to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they made their permanent home.

Sandia Base was, from 1946 to 1971, the principal nuclear weapons installation of the United States Department of Defense. It was located on the southeastern edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico. For 25 years, the top-secret Sandia Base and its subsidiary installation, Manzano Base, carried on the atomic weapons research, development, design, testing, and training commenced by the Manhattan Project during World War II. Fabrication, assembly, and storage of nuclear weapons was also done at Sandia Base. The base played a key role in the United States nuclear deterrence capability during the Cold War. In 1971 it was merged into Kirtland Air Force Base.

Honolulu State capital city in Hawaii, United States

Honolulu is the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi. It is an unincorporated part of and the county seat of the City and County of Honolulu along the southeast coast of the island of Oʻahu. The city is the main gateway to Hawaiʻi and a major portal into the United States. The city is also a major hub for international business, military defense, as well as famously being host to a diverse variety of east-west and Pacific culture, cuisine, and traditions.

The Vietnam War

In 1968, after the Tet Offensive, Rienzi was promoted to major general and given the command of the 23,000 soldiers of the 1st Signal Brigade. [1] [4] During this time the Army implemented new generations of electronically-secured voice communications systems, and Rienzi and his staff oversaw its integration and implementation. This was further complicated by implementing the program of Vietnamization of duties and resources. [5]

Vietnamization policy of the Richard Nixon administration of the United States government

Vietnamization was a policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War through a program to "expand, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops." Brought on by the Viet Cong's Tet Offensive, the policy referred to U.S. combat troops specifically in the ground combat role, but did not reject combat by the U.S. Air Force, as well as the support to South Vietnam, consistent with the policies of U.S. foreign military assistance organizations. U.S. citizens' mistrust of their government that had begun after the offensive worsened with the release of news about U.S. soldiers massacring civilians at My Lai (1968), the invasion of Cambodia (1970), and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers (1971).

Later life and death

By 1970 he was back in Honolulu, Hawaii as commander of the Strategic Communications Command of the Pacific at Fort Shafter. In 1972 he was made the Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army. In 1977 he was promoted to lieutenant general (3 stars), assuming the position of Deputy Director General, Chief of Staff, and Chief Engineer of the NATO Integrated Communications System Management Agency in Brussels, Belgium. [3] Retiring from Army life, he attended seminary at Louvain, Belgium and was ordained a Roman Catholic deacon in 1979.

Fort Shafter United States Army Pacific headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Fort Shafter is in Honolulu CDP, City and County of Honolulu, Hawai‘i, extending up the interfluve (ridgeline) between Kalihi and Moanalua valleys, as well as onto the coastal plain at Māpunapuna. Fort Shafter is the headquarters of the United States Army Pacific, commanding most Army forces in the Asia-Pacific region with the exception of Korea. A portion of the area is also known as the Palm Circle Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been further designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. It is also known as Palm Circle or 100 Area. Palm Circle covers an underground command center.

Rienzi died on December 15, 2010 at Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, and was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. [2]


Rienzi is survived by his daughter (his wife and son having passed on already), three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Rienzi commanded units of the Army’s most technical branch during the transition from wire and cable, vacuum tube radio and visual signals, through the advent of transistorized radio, teletype, electronically-secured voice communications and satellite communications, to the rise of the computer age of the digital battlefield. The rewriting of doctrine and the training involved are not taken lightly by those living in such tumultuous years.


  1. 1 2 Star Advertiser
  2. 1 2 Weiner
  3. 1 2 Vachon
  4. Raines, 381
  5. Rienzi, 153-173


Raines, Rebecca (1996). Getting the Message Through" A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Army Historical Series. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History. ISBN   0-16-045351-8. 

Rienzi, Thomas (1972). Communications-Electronics 1962-1970. Vietnam Studies. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army. 

"Thomas Matthew Rienzi". Star Advertiser. Honolulu. 26 December 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 

Vachon, Duane. "Veterans’ Friend – Lieutenant General Thomas Rienzi U.S. Army, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War (1919-2010)". Hawaii Reporter. 11 March 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2017.

Weiner, Betsy (30 December 2010), Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas M. Rienzi laid to rest at Punchbowl , retrieved 9 January 2017 

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