Col. Maximiano “Max” Romualdez Janairo Jr., a man of deep faith and honor, died early Thursday, September 27, 2018, after a long illness surrounded by family at home in Mount Lebanon, Pa. He was 85 years old.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Janairo served in Korea and Vietnam before becoming the district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh from 1975 to 1978, when he retired from the military. As district engineer, Janairo oversaw the U.S. Army’s response to the 1977 Johnstown Flood and took responsibility for the delayed opening of the new Brady Street Bridge, which earned him accolades in the media for being a rare, honest public servant.
Janairo was born in Manila, Philippines, to the late Amelia Romualdez Janairo and Col. Maximiano Saqui Janairo. The elder Janairo was a 1930 graduate of West Point who survived the Bataan Death March, escaped from the prisoner of war camp, and hid out with his family in the provincial village of his birth. At that time, the elder Janairo enlisted Max Jr., then 11, to take notes to friends in neighboring villages. Only after the war, did Max Jr. learn that he had been carrying hand-drawn maps of Japanese-occupied military facilities to guerrilla fighters.
After the war ended, the elder Janairo was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and Max Jr. graduated high school from Starke University School in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1949. Though Max Jr. was accepted into West Point on a Presidential Appointment, he was too young to enter. He attended Sullivan Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., for one year and entered West Point in 1950 and graduated in 1954. As a cadet, he made a cameo appearance in John Ford’s movie about West Point “The Long Gray Line,” portraying Filipino military hero Vicente Lim, the first Filipino graduate of the Academy.
Janairo’s military career included constructing field fortifications that were subjected to atomic tests at Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, in 1955; commanding Company A, 14th Engineering Battalion in Korea in 1956; and working as Assistant S-3, 20th Engineering Group in Kaiserslautern, Germany, from 1960 to 1963, which is when he met and married his wife, Maureen Comer, an elementary school teacher from Iowa.
His military service also included being an Emergency Action Officer, National Military Command Center, in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., from 1967 to 1969, in which he shared the responsibility of receiving the nuclear launch orders from the president, determining if the order is valid, and communicating the order to military personnel around the world; commanding officer of the 62nd Engineer Battalion (Const), which was converted to a Land Clearing battalion, in Vietnam in 1969; and Army Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations and Logistics at the Pentagon from 1972 to 1975.
Janairo earned a master’s of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1960, and studied at the Engineer Officer Basic Course and Advanced Course at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; the Airbourne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia; the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and the Army War College at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania.
Janairo’s military honors include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.
After retiring from the military in 1978, Janairo worked until 1984 as an engineering manager for a variety of engineering firms in the Pittsburgh area. One of the major projects he worked on was the Pittsburgh International Airport’s Midfield Terminal. From 1984 until his retirement in 2013, Janairo ran various businesses that did airport planning and engineering, highway construction, land surveying, and property development in the Pittsburgh area.
Janairo was also active in a multi-state organization formed in 1981 called DINAMO—the association for the Development of Inland Navigation of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers—which was responsible for obtaining $2 billion in engineering and construction for modernization efforts. In 1991, Janairo was appointed by Gov. Bob Casey to the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, which he served on until earlier this month (September 2018).
In his spare time, Janairo followed numerous pursuits, including cycling, physical fitness, travel, and golf. An avid fisherman, he enjoyed fishing the many of rivers and lakes of western Pennsylvania and on the ocean during family vacations to North Carolina. A model railroad enthusiast, Janairo constructed an HO scale model of the Milwaukee Road in the basement of the family home. Since moving to Pittsburgh in 1975, he was an ardent supporter of the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins, while maintaining his alliance to the Black Knights. Much to the delight of his family, he turned later in life to cooking elaborate, multicourse meals.
A computer enthusiast, Janairo worked on an early vacuum-tube computer at the University of Illinois in the 1950s, and was an early adopter of Compaq and Apple computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He even joined Facebook and Instagram a handful of years ago to keep up with his children and grandchildren.
Some of his most rewarding activities revolved around the church and opportunities for his youngest child, Matthew, who has Down syndrome. Janairo was very active with Our Lady of Grace Parish in Scott Township, the Saint Anthony School Programs for students with intellectual disabilities, and the golf program of the Special Olympics of Allegheny County. Matthew, a graduate of Saint Anthony, is also a Special Olympian who has competed as a golfer in regional, state, and international games.
Janairo is survived by his wife of 56 years, Maureen, and six children. In addition to Matthew, the children are Anne Marie Lewis (Mark) of Chicago, Anthony (Susanna) of Chicago, Edward (Lisa) of Middleton, Wisconsin, Max III (Elizabeth) of Shorewood, Wisconsin, and Michael (Deborah) of Delmar, NY. Janairo is also survived by a sister, Lita Phelps (Dave) of Queensbury, NY, and a brother, Antonio (Betsy) of Dover, Delaware, as well as 11 grandchildren.