Thomas Edward Rees

Thomas Edward Rees

Tom Rees

(May 29, 1931 – June 19, 2014)

Thomas Edward Rees, a pioneer in the troubleshooting and installation of the world’s first pod-based instrumented air combat training systems (ACMI),  designed to track and record the performance of pilots during simulated dogfights and highlighted in the movie Top Gun, died June 19th, at his home in Carlsbad,

with his wife, family and dog Seka at his bedside.

Tom was born May 29, 1931 in Springfield, Illinois to the late Robert M. Rees and Sarah Mae Dressendorfer Rees.  He is a decorated Korean War veteran serving more than two years at sea aboard the USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116) and two combat tours in Korean waters.  The Navy brought Tom to San Diego and upon completion of the six year service commitment in 1956, Tom settled in San Diego with his family.  He planned to study to become a medical doctor but after registering for his classes at San Diego State, a temporary summer job with the Cubic Corporation turned into a nearly 50 year career working electrical engineering and national defense projects that he found exciting and important. One such project involved testing nuclear warheads in space.  Thor rockets were launched from Johnston Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and Tom’s job was to track the rocket’s trajectory from a blockhouse next to the launch pad.  One rocket exploded at liftoff and plutonium contaminated debris rained down on the blockhouse but Tom emerged unscathed.   Tom lived and worked in Sardinia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, Greenland, the Philippines, Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific and far north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  Tom had a keen intellect, a famous memory, an affinity for languages, a strong work ethic, an adventurous spirit, and a tough physical nature that kept him going to the end.

Tom Rees’ survivors include his devoted wife Judy; sister Judith; daughter Janine, son Daniel (Marie), step daughter Kelly; step son Patrick (Wendy); four grandchildren and three step grandchildren.

A public memorial and interment ceremony will be held on Friday, July 25th at 11:30 a.m. at the Miramar National Cemetery, 5795 Nobel Drive, San Diego, CA 92122-5795.

The family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to Veterans Association of North County (VANC),

1617 Mission Ave, Oceanside, 92058.

The family would like to give special thanks to caregiver “Xochitl”, Dr. Matayoshi and to the Fresenius Medical Care Buena Creek dialysis staff.


My personal remembrances and tribute to Tom Rees

I knew Tom as a fellow “Cube” and much admired and respected him as a top notch engineer and team member for many of the “Top Gun” systems he took part in, including several of my own projects. The best way I remember Tom is by saying that for the longest time after I started at Cubic in 1976, I really didn’t know what he did … but I knew he did it very well. Tom seemed to be always in the thick of things … offering advice, pointing out problems and generally being a Rowdy Yates ramrod making sure things got done.

I don’t know if Tom was a man of faith, but one thing I know is that God put Tom in just the right place in my life at just the right time. This was a time in my life when I was searching for answers following a long episode of atheism. I can share more someday if you wish. Suffice it to say, I thank God for Tom in a very personal and literal sense.

I suspect that many of those remembering Tom at this point of loss are family, friends and contemporaries at Cubic over Tom’s many years dating back to the early 1950s and the founding of Cubic Corporation. I suspect there are few if any from Tom’s days as a sailor during the Korean War.

I would like to be bold enough to claim that I knew Tom during those Navy days … and here is why.

Tom was older than me, probably by some 10 or more years. Tom and I both served in the U.S. Navy, but in different wars … Tom’s was the Korean War and mine was the Vietnam War. We never served together but there is a commonality of experience and comradery that I’ve recently discovered that binds those who served in the military. Much of this comradery I hope is seen in the book I’ve recently compiled.

The book and the experiences described in the book, as well as personal encounters with a number of veterans in recent months and years have given me some insight I had not seen previously.

Many of us sailors such as Tom and me and others I have personally met, have stories that merit remembrance, and I hope Tom’s story will be remembered with pride.

As a young man … perhaps 16, 18 or 20 … Tom answered the call of his country and joined the Navy. This past year my wife Diana and I met other sailors such as Tom at a USS Balch/Porterfield ship reunion, World War II class Destroyers also known as ‘tin cans.’ There were 4 from World War II, 5 from the Korean War, 9 from the Vietnam War and several who served at various times during the Cold War. I was honored and humbled when these old sailors welcomed me and called me ‘shipmate.’

So I knew Tom as a young sailor just as I’ve come to know those others who left home at a very young age to battle the enemies of freedom and the United States.

They left home and they left others behind with a very much uncertain future. The WW-II Porterfield sailors talked about being on that ship for 2 years 7 months and 4 days. Korean War veterans talked about fighting a war with temperatures ranging to 38 degree below zero.

I don’t know much about Tom’s Korean War service – he told me he was on a small aircraft carrier. This would have been a very busy and intense time as many missions were flown from those carriers in support of the Marines and GIs ashore. In earlier years Tom told of being on one of the ships involved in the atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific.

Like the others, Tom came back from war and established himself as a valued citizen of the country he loved and was proud of … I’ve heard him express, in forceful terms, that love of country.

So yes … I did know Tom as a young sailor and am proud to have rubbed elbows with him for those many years we continued to serve our nation as contributors to the Cubic “Top Gun” Aircrew Combat Training System.

With humble sincerity,

Don Johnson

Air Test and Training


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