Longtime Hawaiian Senator Inouye Dies
December 18, 2012
Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, has died of respiratory complications. He was 88.
Inouye was the first Representative of Hawaii, elected in 1959. Three years later, he won election to the Senate, where he served until his death 49 years later. Only Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) served longer (51 years). Inouye was president pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in the line of presidential succession, after Vice-president Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner. He was also chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
In his four decades in the Senate, he became known as a quiet yet intense figure of integrity. He was a key member of congressional investigations into both the Watergate scandal and the Iran-Contra affair. He had previously served as chairman of the Commerce Committee and of the Indian Affairs Committee. The Navajo nation made Inouye an honorary member, giving him the name "The Leader Who Has Returned with a Plan."
The keynote speaker at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Inouye turned down a possible run for the Vice-presidency as Hubert Humphrey's running mate. Richard Nixon won the 1968 election.
A decorated war hero and Medal of Honor winner, he lost his right arm in combat during World War II. Inouye was 17 and pursuing dreams of being a surgeon when Japanese planes bombed the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. He was a medical volunteer after the attack. As soon as he could (The U.S. Government had prevented Japanese-Americans from enlisting until 1943), he volunteered for the U.S. Army and was assigned to the E Company of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which took as its nickname "Go for Broke."
He rose to a rank of Captain. In 1944, he sustained a bullet to the chest, but two silver dollars in his shirt pocket stopped the bullet. He kept the silver dollars as lucky charms.
He was a Second Lieutenant in 1945 when he suffered the wounds that would cost him his right arm. He was leading a charge on a German gun emplacement in Italy. Shot in the stomach, he kept going until he was in range to throw a grenade. German bullets severed his right hand, which was holding the grenade. He pulled the grenade out of the now useless hand, pulled the pin, threw the grenade, and destroyed the offending machine gun by advancing with his own rifle blazing. Shot again in the leg, he was finally carried off the field of battle. A long convalescence followed, during which he met, among others, Bob Dole, who later represented Kansas in the Senate for many years, and Philip Hart, who represented Michigan in the Senate for many years. The three remained lifelong friends. In 2003, the hospital where they met was renamed in their honor.
After the war, Inouye went to university. He got a bachelor's degree in economics and government from the University of Hawaii and then a law degree from George Washington University. In between, he made Margaret Awamura, in 1949. Their son, Daniel, Jr., was born in 1964. Margaret died in 2006.
Inouye married Irene Hirano in 2008.
Among his other wartime honors were the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Inouye's last word was "Aloha." President Barack Obama, himself a former Hawaii resident, tweeted back "Aloha, Danny."