It's nearly impossible to overestimate the contribution that Daniel Inouye made to this nation, whether it was on the battlefield or the floor of the U.S. Senate. Inouye died Monday at 88 of respiratory complications at a Washington-area hospital, the last surviving senator who signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Inouye's accomplishments have filled books, making it functionally impossible to include everything in this modest writing. Here, however, are a handful of the highlights.
Born Sept. 7, 1924, to immigrant parents in Honolulu, Inouye was living there with his family when the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Pearl Harbor. He often said the attack changed his life, spurring him to enlist in the U.S. Army at 18. Eventually he was assigned to the service's famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which had the motto, "Go for broke."
The unit served in the Italian campaign during the war, participating in some of the most vicious fighting the conflict produced. In 1945, when the world's attention was focused on fighting in central Europe and the Pacific, the 442nd and numerous other U.S. and Allied units, slogged up the Italian boot, hill after hill, mile after mile. The Germans contested virtually every village and crossroads, driving casualties sky high in a theater that most people knew wasn't the main show, so to speak.
It was during one of those battles that Inouye, by then a captain in charge of a rifle company, lost his right arm to a Nazi grenade. According to the official history of the action, Inouye's unit assaulted a pair of German machine gun positions when he was shot in the stomach. Almost immediately, a grenade exploded near him at the exact time he was preparing to throw a grenade at the Germans. His right arm shredded and hanging from his body, Inouye had to pry the live grenade from his own frozen fingers, dispatching the German position.
At the time, he was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross. Years later, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Medal of Honor.
Inouye was the first Japanese-American elected to Congress, initially to the House of Representatives in 1958 and then the U.S. Senate, where he served 50 years, becoming one of the most powerful and influential Democratic politicians in Washington.
He played key roles in the Watergate hearings and later Iran-Contra investigations. He was keynote speaker at the 1968 national convention. Legislatively, he served on many senate committees.
Inouye will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. His was a life fully and completely lived in dedication to the nation. Now, a grateful nation offers its thanks.