Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) passed away Dec. 17 at age 88 after a life of service, bravery, and leadership. “[He] stood among the ‘greatest’ of our ‘Greatest Generation,’” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in an official statement.
“Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye,” President Barack Obama said in a statement on the day of the senator’s death.
When Inouye was 17 years old, his ancestral country of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and President Franklin Roosevelt declared all Japanese Americans to be enemy aliens. Most were sent to internment camps.
Japanese American men petitioned the government for a chance to enlist in the military, and in 1942, the government granted their request.
“The government decided to form a combat team made up of young Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA), 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,” wrote Inouye in an official statement only 10 days before his death.
Inouye was among the 1,500 chosen for the team. He won the Medal of Honor after he charged machine gun nests in Italy and was so grievously wounded that he lost one arm.
“His determination to recover and his extraordinary career that followed continue to inspire wounded warriors today,” wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in an official Dec. 18 release.
Of his 34 Japanese American college pre-med classmates who enlisted, Inouye was the only survivor.
Our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye.
—President Barack Obama
“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,” wrote Inouye. “I shall always be grateful to President Roosevelt for giving us the opportunity to demonstrate our love of country.”
Throughout his life of public service, he advocated for veterans, disabled people, and racial minorities.
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Inouye was elected Hawaii’s first Congressman. Voters chose him for the Senate in 1962, and he served almost nine consecutive terms.
He had a reputation for putting the good of the country above partisan politics.
Vice President Joe Biden said in an official statement on the day of the senator’s death, “He was one of the most honorable men I ever met in my life, and one of the best friends you could hope for. He was honest, and fiercely loyal, and I trusted him absolutely.”
Inouye served on the Watergate Committee, the Iran-Contra Committee, and the Senate Commerce Committee, among others, and he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Defense Subcommittee and was the first chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, according to his office.
He died at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center of respiratory complications. His wife and son were with him.
According to his office, he said that he hoped to be remembered this way: “I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK.”
His last words were “Aloha,” his senate office reported.
“‘Aloha’ means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return,” according to the Hawaii state code. “Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.”
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