Daniel Ken Inouye (/iːˈnoʊˌeɪ/ ee-NOH-ay; Japanese name: 井上 建, Inoue Ken; 07 September 1924 to 17 December 2012) was an American lawyer and politician who served as a United States senator from Hawaii from 1963 until his death in 2012. Beginning in 1959, he was the first US representative for the State of Hawaii. A member of the Democratic Party, he also served as the president pro tempore of the United States Senate from 2010 until his death. Inouye was the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in US history, until Kamala Harris became vice president in 2021. Inouye also chaired various Senate Committees, including those on Intelligence, Indian Affairs, Commerce, and Appropriations.
Inouye fought in World War II as part of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. He lost his right arm to a grenade wound and received several military decorations, including the Medal of Honour (the nation’s highest military award). He later earned a J.D. degree from George Washington University Law School. Returning to Hawaii, Inouye was elected to Hawaii’s territorial House of Representatives in 1953, and was elected to the territorial Senate in 1957. When Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, Inouye was elected as its first member of the US House of Representatives. He was first elected to the US Senate in 1962. Inouye never lost an election in 58 years as an elected official, and he exercised an exceptionally large influence on Hawaii politics.
Inouye was the second Asian American senator following Hawaii Republican Hiram Fong. Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in the US House of Representatives and the first Japanese American to serve in the US Senate. Because of his seniority, Inouye became president pro tempore of the Senate following the death of Senator Robert Byrd on 29 June 2010, making him third in the presidential line of succession after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. At the time of his death, Inouye was the most senior sitting US senator, the second-oldest sitting US senator (seven and a half months younger than Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey), and the last sitting US senator to have served during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
Inouye was a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of the Paulownia Flowers. Among other public structures, Honolulu International Airport has since been renamed Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in his memory.
Early Life (1924 to 1942)
Daniel Ken Inouye was born in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii on 07 September 1924. His father, Hyotaro Inouye, was a jeweller who had immigrated to Hawaii from Japan as a child. His mother, Kame (née Imanaga) Inouye, was a homemaker born on Maui to Japanese immigrants. Her parents died young and she was adopted and raised by a family in Honolulu. Both of Daniel’s parents were Christian, and met at the River Street Methodist Church in Honolulu. They married in 1923. This heritage makes Daniel a Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) through his father and a Sansei (third-generation) through his mother. Daniel was named after Kame’s adoptive father.
Inouye grew up in Bingham Tract, a Chinese-American enclave in Honolulu. He was raised Christian, and was the oldest of four children. As a child, he collected homing pigeons which he hatched from eggs given to him at an army base in Schofield Barracks in return for him cleaning the coops. As a teenager, he worked on the local beaches teaching tourists how to surf. Inouye’s parents raised him and his siblings with a mix of American and Japanese customs. His parents spoke English at home, but had their children attend a private Japanese language school in addition to public school. Inouye dropped out of the Japanese school in 1939 because he disagreed with his instructor’s anti-American rhetoric, and focused on his studies at President William McKinley High School. He intended to go to college and medical school after his planned 1942 graduation.
Inouye witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbour on 07 December 1941 while still a senior in high school. The Japanese surprise attack brought the United States into World War II. Being a volunteer first aid instructor with the Red Cross, his supervisor called on him to report to Lunalilo Elementary School which had become a Red Cross station. There, he tended to civilians injured by antiaircraft shells that had fallen into the city. After the United States declared war on Japan the next day, Inouye took up a paid job from his Red Cross supervisor to work there as a medical aide. For the remainder of his senior year, Inouye attended school during the day, and worked at the Red Cross station at night. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1942. Although Inouye wanted to join the armed forces after graduating, he did not possess that right as a Japanese-American. The United States Department of War had declared all Japanese-Americans as “enemy aliens”, which stipulated they could not volunteer or be drafted for military service. Inouye enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in September 1942 as a premedical student with the goal of becoming a surgeon.
Army Service (1943 to 1947)
In March 1943, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei combat unit. Inouye applied and was initially turned down because his work at the Red Cross was deemed critical, but was inducted later that month. The unit was composed of over 2,500 Nisei from Hawaii, and 800 from the mainland. Inouye went with his unit in April to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for a 10-month training period, postponing his medical studies. While in Mississippi, the unit visited the Rohwer War Relocation Centre in Arkansas, where Inouye witnessed the internment of Japanese Americans first hand.
The 442nd shipped off to Italy in May 1944 after the conclusion of their training, shortly before the liberation of Rome. Inouye was promoted to sergeant within the first three months of fighting in the Italian countryside north of Rome. The 442nd was then sent to eastern France, where they seized the towns of Bruyères, Belmont, and Biffontaine from the Germans. In late October, the regiment was transferred to the Vosges Mountains region of France, where they rescued 211 members of the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the “Lost Battalion”. Inouye received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant for his actions there, becoming the youngest officer in his regiment. During the battle, 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, but lost them later, shortly before the battle in which he lost his arm. The 442nd spent the next several months near Nice, guarding the French-Italian border until early 1945, when they were called to Northern Italy to assist with an assault on German strongholds in the Apennine Mountains.
On 21 April 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on the heavily defended Colle Musatello ridge near San Terenzo, Italy. The ridge served as a strongpoint of the German fortifications known as the Gothic Line, the last and most unyielding line of German defensive works in Italy. During a flanking manoeuvre against German machine gun nests, Inouye was shot in the stomach from 40 yards away. Ignoring his wound, he proceeded with the attack and together with the unit, destroyed the first two machine gun nests. As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, the injured Inouye crawled toward the final bunker and came within 10 yards. As he prepared to toss a grenade within, a German soldier fired out a 30 mm Schiessbecher antipersonnel rifle grenade at Inouye, striking him in the right elbow. Although it failed to detonate, the blunt force of the grenade amputated most of his right arm at the elbow. The nature of the injury caused his arm muscles to involuntarily squeeze the grenade tightly via a reflex arc, preventing his arm from going limp and dropping a live grenade at his feet. This left him crippled, in terrible pain, under fire with minimal cover and staring at a live grenade “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore.”
Inouye’s platoon 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 began reloading his rifle with regular full metal jacket ammunition to finish off Inouye, Inouye pried the live hand grenade from his useless right hand with his left, and tossed it into the bunker, killing the German. Stumbling to his feet, Inouye continued forward, killing at least one more German before suffering his fifth and final wound of the day in his left leg. Inouye fell unconscious, and awoke to see the worried men of his platoon hovering over him. His only comment before being carried away was to gruffly order them back to their positions, saying “Nobody called off the war!” By the end of the day, the ridge had fallen to American control, without the loss of any soldiers in Inouye’s platoon. The remainder of Inouye’s mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anaesthesia, 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. The war in Europe ended on 08 May, less than three weeks later.
Rehabilitation and Discharge
Shortly before the Japanese surrender and end of WWII in August 1945, Inouye was shipped back to the United States to recover for eleven months at a rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In mid-1946, Inouye was transferred to the Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan to continue his rehabilitation for nine more months. While recovering there, Inouye met future Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, then a fellow patient. The two became friends and would often play bridge together. Dole shared with Inouye his long term plans to attend law school and become an attorney, and later run for state legislature and eventually the United States Congress. With Inouye’s plans to become a surgeon dashed due to his injury, Dole’s plans for a career in public service inspired Inouye to consider entering politics. Inouye ultimately beat Dole to congress. The two remained lifelong friends. In 2003, the hospital was renamed the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Centre in honour of the two World War II veterans, as well as Democratic senator Philip Hart, who had been a patient at the hospital after sustaining injuries on D-Day.
Inouye was honourably discharged with the rank of captain in May 1947 after 20 months of rehabilitation. At the time, he was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, Distinguished Service Cross, and three Purple Hearts. Many in his regiment believed that, were he not Japanese-American, he would have been awarded the Medal of Honour, the nation’s highest military award. Inouye eventually received the Medal of Honour on 21 June 2000 from President Bill Clinton, along with 19 other Japanese American servicemen in the 442nd.
Entry into Politics
Inouye decided to study law hoping it would lead him into a political career. He enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in late 1947 as a prelaw student, majoring in government and economics. He relied on the financial benefits of the G.I. Bill to fund his education. When not in class, Inouye would volunteer for the Democratic Party at the Honolulu County Democratic Committee. He had been talked into joining the party by John A. Burns, a former police captain and future governor, who had ties to the Japanese American community. Though the territory of Hawaii had been politically dominated by the Republican Party, Burns convinced Inouye that the Democratic Party could help Japanese Hawaiians achieve social and economic reform. During these years, Inouye met speech instructor Margaret Awamura at the university, whom he married in 1948.
After graduating in 1950, Inouye moved with his wife to Washington D.C. so he could continue his studies at George Washington University Law School. While there, he volunteered at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters to gain more experience to bring back with him to Hawaii. Inouye earned his J.D. degree in two years, and moved back with his wife to Hawaii in late 1952. Inouye spent the next year studying for the Hawaii bar exam and volunteering with the Democratic Party. After passing the bar exam in August 1953, Inouye was appointed assistant public prosecutor for the city and county of Honolulu by the city mayor and fellow Democrat John Wilson.
At the urging of Burns, Inouye successfully ran for the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives in the November 1954 election, representing the Fourth District. The election came to be known as the Hawaii Democratic Revolution of 1954, as the long entrenched Republican control of the Hawaii Territorial Legislature abruptly ended with a wave of Democratic candidates taking their seats. The election also filled the legislature with Japanese American politicians, who previously held few seats. Inouye was immediately elected majority leader. He served two terms there, and was elected to the Hawaii territorial senate in 1957. Midway through Inouye’s first term in the territorial senate, Hawaii achieved statehood. He won a seat in the US House of Representatives as Hawaii’s first full member, and took office on 21 August 1959, the same date Hawaii became a state; he was re-elected in 1960.
Inouye’s first wife was Margaret “Maggie” Shinobu Awamura, who was working as a speech instructor at the University of Hawaiʻi when Inouye was attending as a prelaw student after the war. The two married on 12 June 1948 at the Harris Memorial Methodist Church in Honolulu. She died of cancer on 13 March 2006. On 24 May 2008, he married Irene Hirano in a private ceremony in Beverly Hills, California. Hirano was president and founding chief executive officer of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California. She resigned the position at the time of her marriage, in order to be closer to her husband. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, Inouye was 24 years older than Hirano. On 27 May 2010, Hirano was elected chair of the nation’s second largest non-profit organisation, The Ford Foundation. Hirano outlived him by more than seven years; she died on 07 April 2020.
Inouye’s son Kenny was the guitarist for the hardcore punk band Marginal Man.
Honours and Awards
- Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1968.
- Grand Cross of the Philippine Legion of Honour in 1993.
- On 21 June 2000, Inouye was presented the Medal of Honour by President Bill Clinton for his service during World War II.
- Also 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 2006, the US Navy Memorial awarded Inouye its Naval Heritage award for his support of the US Navy and the military during his terms in the Senate.
- Grand Cross (Bayani) of the Order of Lakandula on 14 August 2006.
- In 2007, Inouye was personally inducted as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by President of France Nicolas Sarkozy.
- In February 2009, a bill was introduced 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.
- In June 2011, Inouye was appointed a Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers, the highest Japanese honour which may be conferred upon a foreigner who is not a head of state. Only the seventh American to be so honoured, he is also the first American of Japanese descent to receive it. The conferment of the order was “to recognize his continued significant and unprecedented contributions to the enhancement of goodwill and understanding between Japan and the United States.”
- In 2011, Philippine president Benigno Aquino III conferred Order of Sikatuna upon Inouye. He had previously been awarded Order of Lakandula and a Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation.
- Inouye was inducted as an honorary member of the Navajo Nation and titled “The Leader Who Has Returned With a Plan.”
- On 08 August 2013, Inouye was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The citation in the press release reads as follows:
- Daniel Inouye was a lifelong public servant. As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate. Senator Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union.
- In August 2021, while visiting Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, First Lady Jill Biden dedicated a room in the US ambassador’s residence to Inouye and his wife, Irene.
Awards and Decorations
- Combat Infantryman Badge.
- Medal of Honour.
- Bronze Star Medal.
- Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
- Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Three Service Stars.
- World War II Victory Medal.
- Grand Cross of the Order of Lakandula (Philippines).
- Grand Cross of the Order of Sikatuna (Philippines).
- Chief Commander of the Legion of Honour (Philippines).
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers (Japan).
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan).
- Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur (France).
- Chief of Staff Medal of Appreciation (Israel).
- Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation.
In 2012, Inouye began using a wheelchair in the Senate to preserve his knees, and received an oxygen concentrator to aid his breathing. In November 2012, he suffered a minor cut after falling in his apartment and was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre. On 06 December, he was again hospitalized at George Washington University Hospital so doctors could further regulate his oxygen intake, and was transferred to Walter Reed Medical Centre on 10 December. He died there of respiratory complications seven days later on 17 December 2012. According to the senator’s Congressional website, his last word was “Aloha.” Prior to his death, Inouye left a letter encouraging Governor Neil Abercrombie to appoint Colleen Hanabusa to succeed Inouye should he become incapacitated; instead Abercrombie appointed Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Inouye’s death on the floor of the Senate, referring to Inouye as “certainly one of the giants of the Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to Inouye as one of the finest Senators in United States history. President Barack Obama referred to him as a “true American hero”.
Inouye’s body lay in state at the United States Capitol rotunda on 20 December 2012. President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke at a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on 21 December. Inouye’s body was then flown to Hawaii where it lay in state at the Hawaii State Capitol on 22 December. A second funeral service was held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu the following day.
- In 2007, The Citadel dedicated Inouye Hall at the Citadel/South Carolina Army National Guard Marksmanship Centre to Senator Inouye, who helped make the Centre possible.
- In May 2013, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the next Arleigh Burke-class destroyer would be named USS Daniel Inouye (DDG-118).
- The destroyer was officially christened at Bath Iron Works on 22 June 2019.
- In December 2013, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope at Haleakala Observatory on Maui was renamed the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.
- Numerous federal properties at Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam and around Hawai’i have been dedicated to Senator Inouye, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Daniel K. Inouye Regional Centre (2013), the Hawaii Air National Guard Daniel K. Inouye Fighter Squadron Operations & Aircraft Maintenance Facility (2014), the Senator Daniel K. Inouye Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency building (2015), the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies at Fort Derussy (2015), and the Pacific Missile Range Facility Daniel K. Inouye Range and Operations Centre on Kauai (2016).
- In 2014, Israel named the simulator room of the Arrow anti-missile defence system in his honour, the first time that a military facility has been named after a foreign national.
- A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, tail number 5147, of the 535th Airlift Squadron, was dedicated Spirit of Daniel Inouye on 20 August 2014.
- The Parade Field at Fort Benning was rededicated to honour Senator Inouye on 12 September 2014.
- On 27 April 2017, Honolulu’s airport was renamed Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in his honour.
- In 2018, Honolulu-based Matson, Inc. named its newest container ship, the largest built in the United States, the Daniel K. Inouye.
- The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo dedicated its pharmacy college the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy (DKICP) on 04 December 2019.
- He made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1994 film The Next Karate Kid
- The Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing, founded in 1993, is part of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
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