Daniel Inouye, an American of Japanese ancestry who lost his right arm fighting for his country in World War II and went on to represent Hawaii in Congress for its first half century as a state, has died. He was 88.
He died yesterday from respiratory complications at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, according to a statement from his office. He was taken to Walter Reed earlier this month so doctors could monitor his oxygen intake, the Associated Press reported.
A visibly distraught Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate to share the news. “We will all miss him, and that is a gross understatement,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “He is certainly one of the giants of the Senate.” The chamber’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Inouye exemplified Americans “who lead by example and who expect nothing in return.”
Only Robert Byrd of West Virginia, with 51 1/2 years, served longer in the Senate than did Inouye, who began his 50th year in January 2012. Byrd’s death in June 2010 made Inouye the president pro tem of the Senate, a largely ceremonial title given to the most-senior member of the majority party.
Inouye was known mostly for delivering money to his home state and for being called upon to bring fairness and discretion to some of Congress’s most sensitive endeavors.
He served on the special Senate committee that investigated the Watergate scandal in 1973-1974. When Congress created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976, to look into alleged abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency, Inouye was named its first chairman.
In 1987, he was Senate chairman of the bicameral committee that investigated the Iran-Contra affair. He served as acting chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee when it admonished Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat, for accepting gifts from a constituent. The admonishment ultimately drove Torricelli from his bid for a second term.
Inouye’s long tenure finally landed him one of the most important posts in the Senate, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which each year distributes more than $1 trillion in federal spending. Inouye, first appointed to the committee in 1971, was 84 when he took over the committee from Byrd, then 90, at the start of 2009.
He was long “the dominant figure in Hawaii politics,” according to a profile in the Almanac of American Politics, as well as the only politician who “held major office in Hawaii in every year since statehood.”
Even as criticism mounted of the congressional practice of earmarking -- adding an item to a spending bill for a specific recipient, without competition or congressional hearing -- Inouye remained a proud practitioner, assuring that a large slice of military funding in particular made it back to his home state.
“I’m the No. 1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress,” he told a group of Hawaii business leaders in August 2009, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
He spoke out against a proposed earmark moratorium throughout 2010, finally relenting as a new Congress began work early in 2011.
Noting that the Republican majority in the House had vowed not to pass earmarks, and President Barack Obama had pledged to veto legislation containing them, Inouye said, “Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.”
Obama said of Inouye yesterday in a statement:
“In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve. But 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.”
Under state law, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, like Inouye a Democrat, will appoint a senator from a list of three candidates submitted by their state party. That person will serve until 2014, when voters will choose a senator to fill the final two years of Inouye’s term, which expires in January 2017.
Daniel Ken Inouye was born on Sept. 7, 1924, in Honolulu, the eldest of four children. His paternal grandparents had left Japan for Hawaii when Inouye’s father was 4 to work in the sugar plantations.
In 1942, even as some Japanese-Americans on the West Coast of mainland U.S. were being forced into internment camps, Inouye joined other second-generation Japanese-Americans, or Nisei, in volunteering to serve in the U.S. military. He was assigned to the segregated, all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which would become highly decorated for its actions in combat in Europe.
Inouye became a platoon leader, then received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant. In April 1945, during a battle in Italy, he led his platoon against a heavily defended hill, destroying a machine-gun nest with two hand grenades even after being struck by a bullet in his abdomen. A German rifle grenade exploded near him, shattering his right arm. He kept fighting before finally being disabled by a bullet to his leg.
His right arm gone, Inouye spent 20 months recovering at an Army hospital in Michigan. He was promoted to captain before his honorable discharge.
Following his military service, Inouye continued to feel the sting of racism. In an interview for the Ken Burns documentary, “The War,” he recalled walking into a barbershop in Oakland, California, while in uniform and after losing his arm. “We don’t cut Jap hair,” he recalled being told.
Among other medals and citations, Inouye received a Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in combat. In 2000, after a military review of Distinguished Service Cross awards to Japanese-American soldiers, his was upgraded to a Medal of Honor, which President Bill Clinton presented to him at a White House ceremony.
Inouye graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1950 and, in 1952, earned a law degree at George Washington University Law School in Washington. He practiced law in Honolulu and won election to Hawaii’s territorial legislature.
After Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state, in August 1959, Inouye won election to the U.S. House as Hawaii’s first congressman. He won his Senate seat in 1962.
At the protest-ridden 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Inouye gave what the New York Times called “an unusually candid” keynote speech that focused not on defending the party of President Lyndon Johnson but on the problems of the “immoral” Vietnam War, racial discrimination and violence in U.S. cities.
“Whether we know it or not, the marching feet of youth have led us into a new era of politics and we can never turn back,” he said.
With his wife, Margaret, who died in 2006, Inouye had a son, Daniel Jr., who is a lobbyist. In 2008, Inouye married Irene Hirano, who was then president of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
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