Senator Daniel Ken “Dan” Inouye

Senator Daniel Ken “Dan Inouye, born September 7, 1924 is an American politician who currently serves as the senior United States Senator from Hawaii. He has been a U.S. Senator since 1963 and is currently the second-most-senior member after fellow Democrat Robert Byrd. He is the third longest serving U.S Senator in history, after Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond. He has continuously represented Hawaii in the U.S. Congress since it achieved statehood in 1959, serving as Hawaii’s first U.S. Representative and later a U.S. Senator. Inouye was the first Japanese-American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and later the first in the U.S. Senate. He is the third oldest U.S. Senator after Robert Byrd and Frank Lautenberg. He is also a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Personal history

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Inouye is a Nisei (second-generation) Japanese-American and a son of Kame Imanaga and Hyotaro Inouye. He grew up in the Bingham Tract, a Chinese-American enclave within the predominantly Japanese-American community of Mo’ili’ili in Honolulu.

He was at the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 as a medical volunteer.

Inouye was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Medal of Honor

In 1943, when the U.S. Army dropped its ban on Japanese-Americans, Inouye curtailed his premedical studies at the University of Hawaii and enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to the Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most-highly decorated unit in the history of the Army. During the World War II campaign in Europe he received the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded, by President Clinton in June 2000, to the Medal of Honor.

Inouye was promoted to the rank of sergeant within his first year, and he was given the role of platoon leader. He served in Italy in 1944 during the Rome-Arno Campaign before he was shifted to the Vosges Mountains region of France, where he spent two weeks searching for the Lost Battalion, a Texas battalion that was surrounded by German forces. He was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant for his actions there. At one point while leading an attack a shot struck him in the chest directly above his heart, but the bullet was stopped by the two silver dollars he happened to have stacked in his shirt pocket. He continued to carry the coins throughout the war in his shirt pocket as good luck charms.

Assault on Colle Musatello

On April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near Terenzo called Colle Musatello. The ridge served as a strongpoint along the strip of German fortifications known as the Gothic Line, which represented the last and most dogged line of German defensive works in Italy. As he led his platoon in a flanking maneuver, three German machine guns opened fire from covered positions just 40 yards away, pinning his men to the ground. Inouye stood up to attack and was shot in the stomach; ignoring his wound, he proceeded to attack and destroy the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and fire from his M1 Thompson submachine gun. 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.

As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker, eventually drawing within 10 yards. As he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade into the fighting position, a German inside fired a rifle grenade that struck him on the right elbow, severing most of his arm and leaving the primed grenade reflexively “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore”. Inouye’s horrified soldiers moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye managed to successfully pry the live grenade from his useless right hand and transfer it to his left. As the German aimed his rifle to finish him off, Inouye managed at last to toss the grenade off-hand into the bunker and destroy it. He stumbled to his feet and continued forward, silencing the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. When he awoke to see the concerned men of his platoon hovering over him, his only comment before being carried away was to gruffly order them return to their positions, since, as he pointed out, “nobody had called off the war”.

The remainder of Inouye’s mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia, as 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. Inouye was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in this action, with the award later being upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton (alongside 21 other Nisei servicemen who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were believed to have been denied proper recognition of their bravery due to their race). His story, along with interviews with him about the war as a whole, were featured prominently in the 2007 Ken Burns documentary The War.

While recovering from WWII wounds and the amputation of his right forearm from the grenade wound (mentioned above) at Percy Jones Army Hospital, Inouye met future Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, then a fellow patient. Dole mentioned to Inouye that after the war he planned to go to Congress; Inouye beat him there by a few years. The two have remained lifelong friends. In 2003, the hospital was renamed the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in honor of the two WWII veterans and another U.S. Senator and fellow WWII veteran who had stayed in the hospital, Philip Hart.

In February 2009, a bill was filed in the Philippine House of Representatives by Rep. Antonio Diaz seeking to confer honorary Filipino citizenship on Inouye, Senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Akaka and Representative Bob Filner, for their role in securing the passage of benefits for Filipino World War II veterans.

Family

His wife of fifty-seven years, Maggie, died on March 13, 2006. On May 24, 2008, he married Irene Hirano in a private ceremony in Beverly Hills, California. Ms. Hirano is president and chief executive officer of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, she is 24 years Inouye’s junior.

Congressional career

Although he lost his right arm in WWII, Inouye remained in the military until 1947 and was honorably discharged with therank of captain. Due to the loss of his arm, he abandoned his plans to become a surgeon and returned to college to study political science under the GI Bill. He graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. He earned his law degree from The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. in 1953 and was elected into the Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity. Soon afterward he was elected to the territorial legislature, of which he was a member until shortly before Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as Hawaii’s first full member, and took office on August 21, 1959, the same date Hawaii became a state; he was reelected in 1960.

In 1962 Inouye was elected to the U.S. Senate, succeeding fellow Democrat Oren E. Long. He is currently serving his eighth consecutive six-year term, having most recently run against Republican candidate Campbell Cavasso in 2004. He delivered the keynote address at the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. 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.

In 2000, Inouye was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his long and distinguished career in public service.

In 2009, Inouye assumed leadership of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations after longtime chairman Robert Byrd stepped down.

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