WASHINGTON – “Our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye,” President Obama said following the senator’s death last night. The 88-year-old Hawaii Democrat succumbed to respiratory complications at Walter Reed Medical Center. He served as the senior senator for Hawaii since the islands became a state. Inouye, an American of Japanese descent, was also a war hero who lost his right arm to a grenade blast in the European theater during World War II and continued to bring down a German machine-gun nest. His military accolades include the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and others. Inouye released this statement on Dec. 7, the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, thanking the late President Roosevelt for allowing him to serve the country:
In 1941, the date Dec. 7 was a day that evoked anger, fierce patriotism and dangerous racism. Soon after that day, I suddenly found myself, pursuant to a decision by the government and along with thousands of Japanese Americans declared 4C, enemy aliens. It was a difficult time. I was 17.
I joined many of my classmates and sent petitions to the government, pleading for the opportunity to fight. We wanted to affirm our loyalty and pride of citizenship. The request was granted in the final days of 1942.
The government decided to form a combat team made up of young Americans of Japanese Ancestry, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In Hawaii, they asked for 1,500 volunteers. About 10,000 signed up, more than 85 percent of the eligible Japanese American males in Hawaii.
The day I rushed down to the draft board to volunteer, I was a freshmen in college. I was a pre-medicine major. There were 36 AJA’s in my class, 34 volunteered, and all were wounded or killed. As a result, after the war, there were very few AJA doctors in Hawaii.
During one of our first fights, my best friend, Jin Hatsu Chinen, was killed in an artillery barrage. We were to open a clinic in Honolulu together after the war. He was teaching me to play the guitar. His death, reminded me, reminded all of us, of the magnitude and cost of the war we were fighting.
The 442nd went on to become the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the United States Army, but we suffered horrific losses and those of us lucky to survive the fight swore we would live life for our brothers who did not come home. I shall always be grateful to President Roosevelt for giving us the opportunity to demonstrate our love of country.
On this day, let us remember all those who have had the courage to put on the uniform and sacrifice for our great nation. Our way of life has always, and will always be, protected and preserved by volunteers willing to give their lives for what we believe in. I thank each of you for your service to the nation, I thank you for your many sacrifices, and I thank you for being an American patriot.
President Obama, who grew up in Hawaii, referred to the senior senator as “Danny.”
“The second-longest serving Senator in the history of the chamber, Danny represented the people of Hawaii in congress from the moment they joined the Union,” the President’s statement said. “In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve. But it was his incredible bravery during World War II – including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor – that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Inouye family.”
A long time member of the Senate Commerce Committee and its chairman from 2007 to 2009, Inouye helped oversee the DTV transition with his friend and Republican colleague, the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. Stevens chaired Commerce before Inouye’s term, and both men considered themselves co-chairmen during their respective tenures. Stevens passed away as the result of a plane crash in 2010.
Our friendship was a very special one,” Inouye said of Stevens. “When it came to policy, we disagreed more often than we agreed, but we were never disagreeable with one another.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-Va.), current chairman of the Commerce Committee, issued a statement attributed to he and his wife, Sharon:
“Each of us in the Senate has lost a piece of ourselves with the passing of Senator Inouye. He has been a total mentor and great friend to me since I came to the Senate. I’m truly honored to have had the opportunity to know him so well. His life is a testament to what true patriotism, hard work, and courage embody. His heroic legacy will live on as a symbol of the great work that one man can do and it is something that we all strive to achieve. He has made the state of Hawaii, his country, and this chamber proud. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his beautiful wife, Irene, his family, and his friends. Sen. Daniel Inouye was a very great American.”
Inouye will be succeeded as president pro temp of the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), now the senior senator in the chamber. The confirming resolution was passed last night. He is reported to have named his preferred successor in the Senate as Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a first-term Democrat representing Hawaii in Congress.
Peter Boylan, Sen. Inouye’s long-time spokesman, wrote that when asked in recent days how he would want to be remembered, the senator replied, “I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK.”
His last word was, “Aloha.”
~ Deborah D. McAdams
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