Thursday, December 20, 2012

A hero passes

A hero to me, at least.

Senator Inouye passed away this past Monday.

As President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, Inouye was third in line to the U.S. Presidency, behind the  President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. He was the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, save one. He represented his home state of Hawaii, first as a Congressman, then as a Senator, since Hawaii became a state in 1959.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, his government declared that American citizens who looked like him were enemy aliens. Like many Japanese-American boys, he responded by joining the U.S. Army to fight for his country. Not allowed to fight in the Pacific Theater, they were sent to Europe to fight the Nazis. America has never been graced with more patriotic or loyal soldiers than these "Nisei" boys and men. They were segregated and fought under constant suspicion and prejudice.

Daniel Inouye, and so many others like him, loved his country more than his country loved him.

For extraordinary valor in combat, Lt. Inouye (later captain) was awarded his country's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Desperately wounded, he still tore a hand grenade from the lifeless fingers of his shredded right arm and threw it left-handed as best he could at the Germans. It was on target. He survived. He lost his right arm but he made it home. He became a lawyer. Then he went to Washington to represent our newest state in Congress. The rest is history. His passing leaves a giant hole in the U.S. Senate. He was so quiet, most of the younger generation has never heard of him.

Richard Nixon certainly remembered him until the day he died.

As I write this, Senator Inouye lies in state in the rotunda of our Capitol. Not everyone gets that honor. Rosa Parks was the second African-American and first woman. Daniel Inouye is the first Asian-American. He rests on the same catafalque as Abraham Lincoln did in 1865.

It just occurred to me that that's a long way from being labeled an "enemy alien."



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