(via Dave Weigel)
Dave Weigel, at Slate:
Tonight, for the first time, the state of Hawaii is not represented by Daniel Inuoye. The 88-year old senator entered politics in the 1950s, joining the territorial legislature, and waiting for statehood. When Hawaii became the 50th state, Inuoye ran for, and won, its sole seat in Congress. He was representing the state when a kid named Barack Hussein Obama II was born.
But these are among the least interesting details about Inuoye. At age 17, he was a medical volunteer at Pearl Harbor. At 19, he joined the army…
The NYTimes describes his military career:
…In 1943, when the United States Army lifted its ban on Japanese-Americans, Mr. Inouye joined the new 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the first all-nisei volunteer unit. It became the most decorated unit in American military history. In 1944, fighting in Italy and France, he won a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He was shot in the chest, but the bullet was stopped by two silver dollars in his pocket.
On April 21, 1945, weeks before the end of the war in Europe, he led an assault near San Terenzo, Italy. His platoon was pinned down by three machine guns. Although shot in the stomach, he ran forward and destroyed one emplacement with a hand grenade and another with his submachine gun. He was crawling toward the third when enemy fire nearly severed his right arm, leaving a grenade, in his words, “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore.” He pried it loose, threw it with his left hand and destroyed the bunker. Stumbling forward, he silenced resistance with gun bursts before being hit in the leg and collapsing unconscious.
His mutilated right arm was amputated in a field hospital. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award, by President Bill Clinton in 2000. (Members of the 442nd were believed to have been denied proper recognition because of their race.) He spent two years in Army hospitals, including one in Michigan where he met Bob Dole and Philip Hart, wounded veterans who would also become senators…
The Washington Post focuses on his tenure in the local monopoly industry:
…Since 2010, Sen. Inouye had been the Senate’s president pro tempore, which put him third in the line of succession for the presidency.
He cut a singular figure in the nation’s capital when he arrived in Washington in 1959 as a representative from the newest state and the first Japanese American elected to Congress….
After serving in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1962 and began a career as Hawaii’s most important patron in Washington. As longtime chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee and, after 2009, of the entire Appropriations Committee, Sen. Inouye ensured that Hawaii, once seen by most Americans as a distant agricultural outpost, received a steady flow of dollars to develop military sites and modern transportation, communications and educational systems….
He was one of a number of Hawaiian-born Japanese American veterans who returned to the islands to lead a peaceful grass-roots uprising that brought ethnic minorities and working people to power in a place long dominated by white owners of sugar plantations.
In 1954, Sen. Inouye was part of a Democratic tide that swept Republicans — who had long run island politics and were closely aligned with the sugar interests — out of office. Hawaii has voted solidly Democratic since….
Sen. Inouye campaigned on Capitol Hill for national recognition of Japanese Americans’ sacrifices during the war. He was one of several politicians, including Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.), who worked to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which gave each surviving internee $20,000 in compensation and admitted that the internment had resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
As chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Sen. Inouye was instrumental in passing legislation in 1989 that established the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall. Four years later, he successfully pushed for a formal apology from the federal government for assisting in the ouster of the Hawaiian monarchy in the late 1800s….
Senator Inouye also distinguished himself as a voice for rectitude and governmental transparency during both the Watergate and Iran-contra hearings. This did not always endear him to his fellow Congress- persons, and not just the Republicans. But he lived long enough to see many things change for the better, not least among them the election and re-election of our first African-American, Hawaiian-born president.
He did not dishonor his family. He did not dishonor his country. He died — in the fullness of time — with honor.