Daniel K. Inouye was a senior in high school in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He remembered standing outside his house with his father as Japanese planes swooped down on the U.S. fleet, both of them, as Japanese Americans, sharing a special sense of horror at this event. Inouye, who had been teaching first aid to local community groups, spent the first day of the war working at a Red Cross station.
The next September, he enrolled in the University of Hawaii, with plans to become a doctor. Then the War Department, which had refused to accept Japanese-American volunteers after Pearl Harbor, reversed itself, so Inouye quit school and enlisted. He was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; during training in Mississippi, the unit found its motto: "Go for Broke!"
When the 442nd shipped out for Naples in May 1944, Inouye was a sergeant and squad leader. Its casualty rate was so high that it eventually took 12,000 men to fill the original 4,500 places in the regiment. The unit began fighting in June 1944 north of Rome, pushing the Germans back along the Arno River. Later in the summer, it spent several months fighting in France's Rhone valley, where Inouye was given a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant. The 442nd then returned to Italy.
On April 21, 1945, with the European war nearing its end, Inouye's company was ordered to attack a heavily defended ridge guarding an important road in the vicinity of San Terenzo. His platoon wiped out an enemy patrol and mortar observation post and reached the main line of resistance before the rest of the American force. As the troops continued up the hill, three German machine guns focused their fire on them, pinning them down. Inouye worked his way toward the first bunker. Pulling out a grenade, he felt something hit him in his side but paid no attention and threw the grenade into the machine-gun nest. After it exploded, he advanced and killed the crew. He didn't realize he'd been shot until one of his men told him he was bleeding.
Although he felt weak, Inouye continued up the hill, throwing two more grenades into the second gun emplacement and destroying it before he fell. His men, trying to take the third bunker, were forced back. He dragged himself toward it, then stood up and was about to pull the pin on his last grenade when a German appeared in the bunker and fired a rifle grenade. It hit Inouye in the right elbow and virtually tore off his arm. He pried the grenade out of his dead right fist with his other hand and threw it at the third bunker, then lurched toward it, firing his tommy gun left-handed. A German bullet hit him in the leg. A medic reached him and gave him a shot of morphine, but Inouye didn't allow himself to be evacuated until the position was secured. In the hospital, the remnants of his right arm were amputated.
After leaving the Army and going through a long period of recuperation, Inouye finished college. Forced to give up his dream of practicing medicine, he decided to study law. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii in 1954—Congress's first Japanese American—and to the Senate in 1962.