Daniel Inouye, Veteran and Statesman, Passes Away at 88

Published: Dec. 17, 2012 at 5:39 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 18, 2012 at 3:54 PM HST
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WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - Daniel Inouye, a decorated and inspirational war hero who later became the highest-ranking Asian American politician in United States history by serving as the President pro tempore of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, died Monday in Washington.

He was 88.

Inouye had been hospitalized at the George Washington University Hospital since December 6, when he fainted in his office at the U.S. Capitol. He was then transferred to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center three days later so that doctors could monitor his oxygen intake.

His death was confirmed by Peter Boylan, the Senator's Deputy Chief of Staff.

Inouye passes away as the second longest-serving senator in United States history and had already told reporters that he was planning on running for an unprecedented tenth senate term in 2016, when he would have been 92.

A Nisei Japanese-American, Inouye was born on September 7, 1924 in Honolulu to Kame and Hyotaro Inouye, themselves children of immigrants to Hawaii from Japan. He was named after a Methodist minister who adopted his mother at an early age.

Inouye grew up in Moili'ili and attended McKinley High School in Honolulu, where he was a student at the time of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He volunteered as a civilian medic for the Red Cross in the aftermath of the bombing, then joined the U.S. Army in 1943 after a ban that prevented Japanese-Americans from serving in the military was lifted.

He went on to become a war hero and decorated veteran during his service with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, earning two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star Medal and numerous other commendations during his military career.

In 1943, Inouye spent three months with the U.S. Army North service command in the Rome-Arno Theater of Operation in the Mediterranean. A year later, he was moved to the Vosges Mountains in France, where he helped rescue the "Lost Battalion," a battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment from Texas that had been surrounded by German forces. He was awarded the Bronze Star and a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant shortly thereafter.

Having returned to Italy in 1945, Inouye was leading a platoon attacking a heavily-defended hill in San Terenzo when he was shot in the stomach by an enemy sniper round. Undeterred, he advanced, alone, to within a few yards of two machine gun turrets, which he destroyed with grenades and small arms fire.

His right arm was completely shattered during an attempt to disable a third gun turret, when he was hit on the elbow by a German rifle grenade. Inouye managed to throw another grenade with his left hand and destroy the final turret before falling to the bottom of the ridge.

Shortly after the attack, having been given too much morphine by a field medic, the remainder of Inouye's right arm was amputated without the use of anesthesia out of fear that any more medication would lower his blood pressure to a potentially fatal level.

Following a reevaluation of the military accomplishments of Asian Americans in World War II, Senator Inouye was presented with the Medal of Honor by then-President Bill Clinton for his heroism in Italy more than 50 years earlier during a ceremony on June 21, 2000.

"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," reads Inouye's Medal of Honor citation.

Having lost his arm, Inouye, unable to pursue a career as a surgeon, returned to the University of Hawaii and decided instead on a career in politics. In 1950 he graduated from the university with a Bachelor's of Arts in political science, then completed work on a law degree from the George Washington University Law School in 1952.

He was elected to the legislature of the Territory of Hawaii in 1954, five years before the islands became the fiftieth state admitted to the Union, and served as the majority leader until he was elected to the territory's Senate in 1958.

Inouye's American political career began on August 21, 1959, the day Hawaii became a state, when the residents of Hawaii voted him their first Congressman. Voters then sent him to back to Washington after re-election in 1960.

He was elected to succeed former Territorial governor Oren E. Long in the United States Senate in 1962 and had served in the Senate ever since, an uninterrupted stretch of fifty years that spanned ten different presidencies.

Inouye was thrust into the political spotlight for the first time in 1968, when he was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Though the Democrats lost the White House during that election, Inouye again gained national attention as a member of the Senate Watergate Committee in the early 1970s, presiding over hearings which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Well known as one of the most influential leaders in the Senate, Inouye became the first Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1975 and served separate stints as the Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs between 1987-1995 and 2001-2003.

Inouye chaired a special committee charged with investigating the Iran-Contra Affair during Ronald Reagan's administration in 1987, which saw senior-level cabinet officials sell arms to Iran in hopes that American hostages being held in Lebanon would be released.

Inouye played an instrumental part in ending the live-fire training on the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe, sponsoring a measure in the Department of Defense's appropriations bill in 1993 that called for the return of the island to the State of Hawaii and ordered the removal of any unexploded ordnance from it.

Inouye and fellow Hawaii Senator, the outgoing Daniel Akaka, both voted against the Iraq war resolution in October 2002 and were among two of the 12 Democrats who voted for a 2006 resolution to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by July 2007.

In 2009, Inouye came to the aid of Filipino military members who had fought at his side during World War II, helping to appropriate $198 million dollars for lump-sum benefit payments to Filipino veterans more than fifty years after the end of the war.

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City, Inouye introduced a bill to Congress that called for the federal government to provide a third of the annual operating costs for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, calling the bombing "the most horrific attack on America since the bombing of Pearl Harbor."

Inouye spent his 50 years in the United States Senate fighting to improve the quality of life for Hawaii's residents, helping bring bus service to Honolulu and various military construction jobs to Ford Island, Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks. He helped stimulate economic growth with projects like the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and through support of research programs at the University of Hawaii.

In 2009, after Robert Byrd resigned from the post, Inouye became Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which allocates federal funds to the different agencies and departments of the government and is considered by many to be the Senate's most powerful committee assignment.

When Byrd died in office in June of 2010, Inouye inherited another distinguished title from the West Virginia Senator. Per Senate tradition, having become the most senior senator, Inouye was chosen as President pro tempore of the Senate and thus third in the line of succession for the United States presidency.

Margaret Awamura Inouye, Senator Inouye's wife of nearly 57 years, died in March of 2006 after a long battle with colon cancer. In 1964, the couple had a son, Kenny, who earned a bachelor's degree in political science from George Washington University, where his father earned his law degree. Kenny is married to Jessica Carroll, of Rochester, New York, and the couple have a daughter named Mary Margaret "Maggie" Inouye.

In May of 2008 Senator Inouye married Irene Hirano, then-CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles who now serves as the President of the U.S.-Japan Council.

Inouye would have succeeded Senator Robert Byrd as the country's longest serving senator in history on June 29, 2014, which would have been his 18,805th day in office.

Related: Sen. Inouye's office says his final word was 'Aloha'

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