December 18, 2012

Sen. Daniel Inouye: Nation says 'Aloha' to a 'true American hero'

A Medal of Honor recipient for service during World War II, the Hawaii lawmaker was elected to Congress in 1959.

By ANDREW TAYLOR/The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Recovering from war wounds that left him with one arm, Danny Inouye wanted a cigarette and needed a light.

click image to enlarge

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, died of respiratory complications in a Washington-area hospital on Monday. He was 88.

2010 Associated Press File Photo

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Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, then a member of the Watergate investigating committee, questions witness James McCord during a hearing on May 19, 1973, in Washington.

1973 Associated Press File Photo


Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, joined their Senate colleagues in praising Inouye for his decades of service.

Snowe called Inouye “a legislative stalwart and tireless advocate for his beloved home state,” but also acknowledged his bipartisanship and leadership of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

“Elected as Hawaii’s first congressman after statehood and serving in the Senate since 1963, Dan epitomized a lifelong passion for and devotion to public service,” Snowe said in a statement. “And in a time of increasing partisanship, Sen. Inouye was the rare exception.”

Collins called Inouye “a treasured colleague and a dear friend, who devoted his life to serving his country.”

“I had the pleasure of serving with him on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he worked across the aisle to better his beloved state and our country,” Collins said in a statement. “He was a Medal of Honor recipient who served in World War II with amazing courage.  He will be missed dearly by his loved ones and by all of us honored to have served with him.”

– Kevin Miller, Press Herald Washington Bureau Chief

The nurse at the Army hospital in Michigan threw a pack of matches on his chest. He wanted to curse her. Instead, she taught him how to light it one-handed.

"Then she said, 'I'm not going to be around here for the rest of your life. You'll have to learn how to light your own matches, cut your own meat, dress yourself and do everything else. So from now on you're going to be learning,' " Inouye recalled decades later.

From that moment on it seemed like nothing would stop a determined Daniel K. Inouye, who died Monday after a uniquely American life defined by heroism in war and decades of service in the Senate -- and a lifelong love of Hawaii symbolized by his last utterance: "Aloha."

Inouye, who broke racial barriers on Capitol Hill and played key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, was 88.

A senator since January 1963, Inouye was currently the longest-serving senator and was president pro tempore of the Senate, third in the line of presidential succession. His office said Monday that he died of respiratory complications at a Washington-area hospital.

Less than an hour after Inouye's passing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Inouye's death to a stunned chamber. "Our friend Daniel Inouye has died," Reid said somberly. Shocked members of the Senate stood in the aisles or slumped in their chairs.

Inouye was a World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient who lost an arm to a German hand grenade during a battle in Italy. He became the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, when he was elected to the House in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. He won election to the Senate three years later and served there longer than anyone in American history except Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in 2010 after 51 years in the Senate.

President Obama, a native of Hawaii, said in a statement, "Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye. ... 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."

Obama also sent a tweet that ended "Aloha, Danny."

Inouye died after a relatively brief hospitalization. Once a regular smoker, he had a portion of a lung removed in the 1960s after a misdiagnosis for cancer. Just last week, he issued a statement expressing optimism about his recovery.

Despite his age and illness, Inouye's death shocked members of the Senate.

"I'm too broken up," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who becomes president pro tem of the Senate. Leahy also is poised to take over the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"He was the kind of man, in short, that America has always been grateful to have, especially in her darkest hours, men who lead by example and who expect nothing in return," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a replacement, choosing from a list of three candidates selected by the state Democratic Party. "We're preparing to say goodbye," Abercrombie said. "Everything else will take place in good time."

Whomever Abercrombie appoints would serve until a special election in 2014.

Inouye has represented Hawaii since it became a state in 1959, first in the House. He was handily re-elected to a ninth term in 2010 with 75 percent of the vote.

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