A bridge just outside of Petersburg city limits will be renamed in remembrance of Donald “Harry” Kito who perished while serving his country 45 years ago.
Kito, who is described by family members John Kito, of Anchorage, and Amelia Kito Gage, of Sitka, as someone who had a smile that “would light up a room, a laugh that was contagious, and a sincere interest in those he knew and loved.”
Kito, known as “Harry,” to friends and family, was named after his grandfather Iwataro “Harry” Okegawa, who was a Japanese immigrant. He was 25 years old when he was killed in action July 8, 1967 in the vicinity of Quang Tri, Republic of Vietnam.
His name will be memorialized in a ceremony at what is now known as the Falls Creek Bridge, which is at the 10.4 mile marker of Mitkof Highway. The ceremony will be held on Nov. 12, 2012 as part of Veterans’ Day activities. The public will be welcome to attend, said Kito’s family members.
“Harry’s [story] was of course a milestone because he perished. He was from the little community of Petersburg. I think that would be the main reason a bridge for him is supported, is because his loss of life,” said Gage, who is 63.
Kito, was born on May 18, 1942, in Camp Harmony, a temporary facility within the system of internment camps set up for Japanese Americans during World War II. Camp Harmony was built near Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Wash.
Kito was raised with an extended family of Japanese and Tlingit heritage. His mother’s family was native Tlingit from Kake, his father was Japanese.
Kito grew up in Petersburg, graduating from Petersburg High School in 1960. He and the entire Kito family enjoyed basketball as a sport, Gage said.
In 1961, Kito joined his older brother Sam Kito, Jr., and a fellow group of Alaskan Natives in an 18-month pilot class sponsored by Radio City American Corp. in New York City. Kito received training in industrial and communication electronics with the goal of advancing telecommunication links across Alaska. Upon his return to Alaska, Kito worked in the communications field and then joined the Marines in November 1965. He was deployed to Vietnam in October 1966. In May 1967, he was appointed to the grade of Lance Corporal.
“His story is interesting,” Gage said, noting there are a number of virtual memorials and Kito’s name is included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
"Thank you for your sacrifice. My students at Petersburg High School (your high school) learn about you every year in my U.S. History class. Your rubbing hangs on our school wall. A scholarship is given to a graduate every year in honor of you and your sacrifice. You are not forgotten," Jim Engell wrote on a memorial web page for Kito.
The renaming of the bridge is made possible by the passage of House Bill 246. Sponsored by House Finance Co-chair Rep. Bill Thomas, HB 246 honors 15 deceased U.S. Armed Servicemen and an Eyak elder from Southeast Alaska with bridges in their names, as well as three interior Alaska airports, and the state-owned Nome Bypass Road.
“This bill is meant to honor those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Thomas said in a press release.
“Alaska has a strong sense of community and an appreciation for their neighbors who answer the call of duty,” Thomas said. “As a veteran, I’m humbled that the communities would come forward with a plan like this to memorialize their heroes. It’s a simple, yet poignant, reminder of the sacrifice they made for their hometown and country.”
Kito is interred beside his parents, Saburo “Sam” Kito Sr. and Amelia Okegawa Kito, at Petersburg Memorial Cemetery.