Daniel Ken "Dan" Inouye (1924- 2012) was a great deal more than just a U.S Senator from Hawaii. He was a World War II hero, a Medal of Honor recipient, member of the Democratic Party, served in the Hawaii territorial House of Representatives and Senate from (1954-1959), one of the Hawaii's first congressman when it achieved statehood (1959), the first Asian-American Senator, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, the second longest serving Senator in U.S. history (next to Harry Byrd of West Virginia), and President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate (2010-2013). Also, for three years he was third in the line of Presidential succession after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representative. But, perhaps his greatest achievement was at a time of a bitter and often bombastic political divide in America, he was calm, dignified and a voice of reason.
Inouye was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was a Nisei (second generation Japanese American). During the Japanese 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he served as a medical volunteer. Mainland Japanese-Americans were sent to concentration camp but those in Hawaii were not. In 1943, when the U.S. Army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese-Americans, Inouye stopped his premedical studies at the University of Hawaii and enlisted in the Army. He volunteered to be part of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was promoted to sergeant and later to second lieutenant. On April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near San Terenzo in Italy. After being informed of the severity of his wound by his platoon sergeant, he refused treatment and rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he also successfully destroyed before collapsing from blood loss. Later in the same battle, as he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade into the fighting position, a German fired a rifle-grenade which struck him on the right elbow, severing most of his arm. He flung his final hand grenade at the enemy bucker and then he stumbled to his feet. He continued to move forward and silenced the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson rifle before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. The remainder of Inouye's mutilated right arm was amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia because he had been given too much morphine at an aid station and it was feared any more would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him. The whole incident was fully explained in the John F. Kennedy 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage.
Because of the loss of his arm, Inouye abandoned his plans to become a surgeon, and returned to college to study political science. He graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts. He then went on to earn a law degree from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.
In 1962, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was reelected eight times, usually without serious difficulty. His closest race was in 1992, when state senator Rick Reed held him to 57 percent of the vote, the only time he received less than 69 percent of the vote. And, there was never even the hint of scandal attached to his name.
He delivered the keynote address at the 1968 Democratic Convention and gained national attention for his service on the Senate Watergate Committee. He was chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence from 1975 until 1979 and chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs from 1987 until 1995 and from 2001 until 2003. Inouye was also involved in the Iran-Contra investigations of the 1980s, chairing a special committee from 1987 until 1989, a clandestine operation conducted from the White House basement by Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North with the full knowledge of President Ronald Reagan, an illegal action which warranted his impeachment. During the hearings Inouye referred to the operations that had been revealed as a "secret government" saying: (There exists) a shadowy Government with its own Air Force, its own Navy, its own fundraising mechanism, and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself. Criticizing North's justifications that he was just following orders for his actions in the affair, Inouye made reference to the Nuremberg trials during which Nazis defended themselves by claiming they were just following orders.
Prior to his death, Inouye announced that he planned to run for a record tenth term in 2016, when he would have been 92 years old. But he also said, "I have told my staff and I have told my family that when the time comes, when you question my sanity or question my ability to do things physically or mentally, I don't want you to hesitate, do everything to get me out of here, because I want to make certain the people of Hawaii get the best representation possible."
Daniel Inouye died from respiratory complications. His last word which he penned before he died was "Aloha".