Norio Endo, a retired U.S. Navy captain and decorated Vietnam War veteran who co-founded the Japanese Lacrosse Association, a group of more than 15,000 players that has been instrumental in popularizing the sport in Japan, died Jan. 11 in Baltimore. He was 78.
Capt. Endo, known as Nori, died at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The cause was cancer, said his daughter Kiyomi Endo.
As a child, Capt. Endo was interned with thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War II, ostensibly because they were considered a threat to national security. He later attended Johns Hopkins University before enlisting in the Navy in 1956 and beginning a 28-year military career.
“He was a great stick. He was daring as heck but not foolhardy,” said Navy Capt. Chris Vatidis. Both were members of an attack squadron that participated in airstrikes and rescued downed pilots in Vietnam.
Capt. Endo served two tours in Vietnam before becoming one of the first Japanese American pilots to reach the rank of captain, in 1978. His military honors included the Legion of Merit, two awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, 12 awards of the Air Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal.
From 1978 until his military retirement in 1984, he was assigned to work for Grumman Aerospace in Beth Page, N.Y., and in the Crystal City area of Arlington County. He helped manage the company’s F-14 Tomcat program, fighter jets similar to the ones featured in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.”
Norio Bruce Endo was born in Oakland, Calif, on April 4, 1934. During World War II, he and his family were forcibly resettled into Arizona’s Poston War Relocation Center, one of the largest internment camps for people of Japanese ancestry.
After their release, the family moved to Minneapolis for one year before settling in the Prince George’s County town of Riverdale. Capt. Endo was a 1952 graduate of McKinley Technical High School in Washington and received a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins in 1956. In 1972, he received a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
After his military assignment at Grumman, he spent a decade as a civilian employee of the aerospace company. He became vice president of Grumman’s Far East office in Tokyo. He worked in Japan for five years before moving to Annapolis in the early 1990s. He continued to help run the Far East office stateside until he retired in 1994.
While in Tokyo, he ran into then-Hopkins Vice President Ross Jones at a university reception. The two alumni expressed an interest in introducing lacrosse to Japan; both thought that the sport shared elements of the traditional Japanese martial art kendo and that the mental and physical demands of the game would fit the Japanese personality.
They established the Japanese Lacrosse Association in 1987. The group began with 10 interested Japanese university freshmen and has grown to more than 15,000 active players. There are about 80,000 lacrosse players in Japan, according to the association’s Web site.
“The only way to get our young people together was through lacrosse,” Capt. Endo told the Annapolis Capital newspaper in 2005. His hope was that the friendships established during training camps and international exchanges would lead to future professional relationships between the two nations.
In 2011, Japan ranked third behind the United States and Canada in number of players in the International Lacrosse Federation.
“Nori was at the heart of all of this. Although he did not speak Japanese, his passion was evident to the young people, and he transferred his passion to them,” Jones told The Washington Post on Monday.
Capt. Endo, a past president of the association, was involved with the group until his death and helped plan a lacrosse scrimmage at the U.S. Naval Academy this month.
His first marriage, to Kimiyo Tahira, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Ruth Jones Endo of Annapolis; four children from his first marriage, Michelle Cole of Templeton, Calif., Tracey Balazs of Cape St. Claire, Kiyomi Endo of Annapolis and William Endo of Cumming, Ga.; three stepchildren, Jenny Cone of Arnold, Amy Huff of Edgewater and Nathan Huff of Baltimore; a brother; and seven grandchildren.