Yesterday, a great man in this country passed: Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye. He was a GW grad, a war hero, and the U.S. Senate’s most senior member. Through the years, I had numerous occasions to sit down with Inouye and I liked him a great deal. He was to put it simply: a good man. He cared about people and was deeply worried about the direction of our political system for both parties. He was 88 and he will be missed. His last word was reportedly “Aloha” — both “hello” and “goodbye” in traditional Hawaiian.
Inouye was a Medal of Honor recipient from World War II (his citation is pasted below). He graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. He earned his law degree from The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. in 1953. He recently spoke to our class in a touching commencement address.
As president pro tempore of the Senate, Inouye was third in line of presidential succession. I particularly enjoyed speaking with him during my representation of Judge Thomas Porteous on the Senate floor. Inouye presided at the trial. We talked about how the Senate had changed and how it had become more petty and mean since the days of such great leaders like Hubert Humphrey and Daniel Moynihan and others. I loved having him as my presiding officer. He brought a certain calm and maturity to any proceeding. He had a certain sense about him, a strength and confidence that was contagious.
Inouye was first elected to the Senate in 1962. From his role in Watergate to Iran-Contra, Inouye was not just a witness but an participant in history.
From the very start, Inouye was the type of man who walked forward in the face of danger. He had a natural courage but, despite being a fierce warrior, was one of the most gentle men you could meet.
After Pearl Harbor (when he helped care for the wounded), Inouye dropped out of school to join the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of “nisei,” or Americans whose parents were born in Japan. He served at a time when his own country has imprisoned Japanese Americans in internment camps.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism in 1945 during a battle in Italy near San Terenzo. While his unit was pinned down by enemy fire, he was wounded by a bullet to his midsection. As he continued to fight, his right arm was almost completely severed by an enemy grenade launcher. Using his left arm, he pried the live grenade out of his debilitated arm.
In one of the most extraordinary twists of fate, after they amputated his right arm, he recovered in a military hospital and became friends with a boy from Kansas who also lost the use of his right arm. The young soldier was Bob Dole and they would later serve in the Senate together and remain close friends.
I will miss Inouye greatly and his passing only highlights the lack of leaders today of his character. His successors appear much smaller in both stature and vision. Inouye served his nation proudly as a soldier, as a Senator, and as a man. One can only say, well done Lt. Inouye and thank you.
Below is his official citation for the Medal of Honor:
Inouye, Daniel K.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company E, 442nd Infantry. Place and date: San Terenzo, Italy, 21 April 1945. Birth: 7 September 1924, Honolulu, Hawaii. Entered service at: Honolulu, Hawaii.
Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
Source: USA Today