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Thomas R. Shukay 1954


No. 1964412 December 1932 - 25 December 2015          

Died: Long Beach, CA

Cremated: Interred in West Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery, Kailua-Kona, HI


Thomas Raymond ‘Tom’ Shukay was born on December 12, 1932 in St. Paul, MN. His grandfather was a Polish immigrant who processed through Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Tom’s father, Raymond, settled in St. Paul, during the Great Depression. He and his wife Albina had three children; Joan, Tom, and Sue.

Tom attended Mechanic Arts High School and St. Thomas Military Academy, graduating fifth in his class. He entered West Point through a competitive Honor Military School appointment.

In addition to making the Dean’s list, Tom was a member of the Gymnastics Team, Glee Club, Debate Council, Catholic Chapel Choir, Ski Club, Math Forum, Fishing Club, Russian Club, Weight Lifting Club, and Camera Club. He enjoyed playing the accordion, painting and playing handball.

In the summer of 1953, following his third year, he was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division at Fort Knox, KY as a Basic Training Platoon Leader under the Recruit Training Detail Program. He taught more than 100 recruits fundamental military skills, including firing range practice with the M1 rifle, the BAR, and physical conditioning.

Upon graduation in 1954, he joined the U.S. Air Force and entered the flight training program with several follow-up assignments: primary flight training (PA-18, AT6), Stallings Field, Kinston, NC; Basic Training (T-28, T-33), Greenville Air Force Base (AFB), MI; Advanced Flight Training (F86D), Tyndall AFB, Panama City, FL; 323rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron (F-86D, F102A), Truax Field, Madison, WI, which was relocated to Ernest Harmon AFB, Stephenville, Newfoundland. On completion of this tour in 1959, he was assigned to MIT graduate school, Cambridge, MA, graduating with an MS and EAA in aeronautics and astronautics in June 1961.

Next, he was with the Space Systems Division, Research and Development Command in Inglewood, CA, and El Segundo Air Force Station. As Technical Research Director for advanced space propulsion systems, including nuclear and ion engines, his group developed and completed three ballistic space tests of a prototype cesium-ion engine launched from Vandenberg AFB, CA and demonstrated ion engine operation in space with a nuclear power source.

Tom married his first wife, Wanda, in 1963. The couple had two children, Joe and Suzanne.

Injuries from an aircraft accident affected Tom’s flying status, and, after accumulating more than 1,700 hours of flight time as a single engine jet fighter pilot, he transferred to the Air Force Reserve in October 1965 as a Mobilization Day Foreign Intelligence Officer with the rank of captain. He provided intelligence analysis of Soviet space activity for the Space Systems Division in El Segundo and later for the Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom Field, Burlington, MA. He continued this assignment until his reserve retirement in 1976 as a lieutenant colonel, with active duty/reserve service of 22 years.

After leaving active duty in 1965, he joined Hughes Aircraft Company at the Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, CA to pursue advanced space propulsion research and development activities. He was the author of numerous scientific papers on space propulsion systems. He also received an MBA from Pepperdine University in June 1974.

In 1979, he was manager for telecommunications for Hughes Aircraft in Washington, DC, working on Intelsat satellites, Air Force airborne radars, the NASA shuttle program, and classified satellite programs. He witnessed the first shuttle landing at Edwards AFB, CA. Returning to Hughes in El Segundo from Washington, DC in 1982, he became involved in the production and management of satellite development for both civilian and military applications.

Tom married Suzan Henriksen in September 1988 with a gala celebration on Catalina Island. They had met during a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta rehearsal in which both participated. He also started a building business, with Suzan as business manager, and developed and built more than 200 homes and home sites in California and later in Colorado Springs, CO. Tom continued his active music interest and with Suzan performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and in many Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas and sang with the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra chorus.

During his downtime, Tom began an exciting sailboat racing career, participating in competitive off-shore, blue water, long distance sailboat cruising and racing, eventually traveling over 20,000 miles at sea. He “bare boat” chartered on Tonga, Fiji, the Whitsunday Islands (off the coast of Queensland, Australia), and in the Caribbean. After retiring from the building business in 2000, he sailed his boat from Los Angeles to the South Pacific, fulfilling a dream held since childhood and visited Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, and New Zealand along the way. After this nine-month South Pacific trip, he and his wife settled in San Pedro, CA, where he took up his interest in art, producing glass sculpture.

Tom’s memberships included the American Rocket Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the National Home Builders Association, the San Pedro Bay Historical Society, the Los Angeles Maritime Institute. He also served on the board of the Los Angeles Marine Museum.

Although he never saw combat, Tom was proud of his service to his country. He helped defend the U.S. mainland during the Cold War with vigilance and by flying live-ammunition daily sorties despite brutal weather, zero-zero visibility, blowing snow, and icy runways. The skills of his fellow pilots and the camaraderie engendered continually amazed him. Tom was truly grateful for the West Point experience which was the root from which bred his accomplishments and many wondrous experiences. He was immensely proud of his family who supported him along the way.


Originally published in TAPS, Summer 2016

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