President Barack Obama joined lawmakers from Congress and Hawaii at a memorial service in Honolulu to pay tribute to U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, who died Dec. 17 of respiratory complications.
Obama, who was born in Hawaii and is visiting the state on vacation with his family, was accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Inouye, a Democrat and the most senior U.S. senator, was a World War II hero who represented Hawaii since statehood in 1959. He was 88.
As the 19-gun salute sounded, rows of World War II veterans attending the ceremony were visibly moved.
Also attending the service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, Senator Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii who is retiring, and Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.
Obama spoke about Inouye during a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 21, saying the Hawaii senator had been one of his “earliest political inspirations.” The president said the late senator had served the country with “fundamental integrity.”
Speaking at the service in Hawaii, Locklear said Inouye “was in every way a giant. We have lost an irreplaceable American.”
Reid said he had met with Inouye eight days before his death, just before he entered the hospital. “We talked as though there were many tomorrows,” he said. “He was really a legislative hero, to that I can testify.”
“He was a Hawaiian hero, a champion of this state,” he said, adding that Inouye brought “billions” of dollars home to Hawaii. “It should come as no surprise that Danny died as he lived, with dignity.”
He recalled that former Senator Robert Dole, a Republican from Kansas, asked if Reid would accompany him to pay respects to Inouye, his friend of 60 years, at the memorial in Washington. He accompanied Dole to the rotunda where Inouye was lying in state. Dole, 89, who now uses a wheelchair, insisted on walking up to the casket and saluted Inouye.
Dole and Inouye first met at an army hospital in Michigan while both were recovering from wounds suffered during WWII.
Inouye, an American of Japanese ancestry who lost his right arm fighting for his country, was president pro tem of the Senate. The largely ceremonial title is given to the most senior member of the majority party.
He was the second longest-serving U.S. lawmaker in history after the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who served 51 1-2 years in Congress.
At the Hawaii memorial, Akaka said Inouye made it possible for him and later, Obama, to rise to the highest levels of office. “He demolished,” the ceiling, he said. “Dan Inouye is Hawaii and Hawaii is Dan Inouye.”
After the service, Obama visited the grave of his grandfather, Stanley Dunham.