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Senator Daniel K. Inouye--A Man for All Seasons

“Aloha ‘Oe, Senator Dan.”

December 27, 2012
Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez - Senior Contributing Writer (tominmaui@me.com) , The Maui Weekly

In his play, "A Man for All Seasons," Robert Bolt writes of Sir Thomas Moore, who lived his life based on principals of ethical and lawful behavior and was ultimately executed by King Henry VIII of England in the 16th century for his refusal to change those principles to meet the King's demands.

In public life there are few politicians who could meet that principled test today. To not only stand fast to one's core values, but also to be loved by the people he served for doing so. One of those few was Senator Daniel K. Inouye, simply known as "The Senator," or "Senator Dan" to millions of Hawai'i residents, both Republican and Democrat.

Sen. Inouye's passing marks the end of an era for Hawai'i and the nation. At the time of his death, he was the Senate's second longest serving senator (after the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia) and the Senate President Pro-Tempore, making him third in line for the Presidency following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House. As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he played a critical role in funding numerous projects to benefit Maui and the state.

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Since 1959, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye served Hawai‘i in the U.S. Congress. First, as a member of the House of Representatives and in 1962 as a U.S. senator--an office he held for 50 years.

Sen. Inouye was thrust into the limelight in the 1970s as a member of the Watergate Committee that voted to impeach President Richard Nixon and in 1987 as Chairman of the Iran-Contra Committee that investigated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran by the Reagan administration to fund anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. But it was his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to enact meaningful legislation where he made his mark as a legislator respected on both sides of the aisle.

One of his best-known efforts was securing funding for the Maui Research and Technology Park and the Maui High Performance Computer located in central Kihei. According to its Website, the park is now home to over 20 high-technology and professional services companies employing approximately 400 people. An estimated $150 million flows through park companies and projects each year.

In addition, Sen. Inouye was instrumental in providing funding for the Maui Bus service, construction jobs in support of military infrastructure, the diversification of agriculture, the expansion of national parks and wildlife refuges in Hawai'i, and the protection of Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, the alala (Hawaiian crow), nene goose and coral reefs.

Sen. Inouye's political career began as a representative to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954. In 1958, he was elected to the Territorial Senate. In 1959, following statehood, Inouye was elected as the first member of U.S. House of Representatives from Hawai'i. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, ultimately being elected to the Senate for nine consecutive terms. Since 1959, there has not been a time when Sen. Inouye was not representing Hawai'i.

In March of 1943, Sen. Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army's 442 Regimental Combat Team, the "Go For Broke" regiment, leaving behind his pre-med studies at the University of Hawai'i and dreams of becoming a doctor. In the fall of 1944, the war would take his regiment to the Vosges Mountains of France and into battle for two bloody weeks as they fought to rescue a Texas Battalion surrounded by a much larger German force. It became known in the annals of WWII as the rescue of the "Lost Battalion."

As a result of his action in battle, the senator was awarded the Bronze Star and received a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant. Later, in Italy, while engaged in the assault of a heavily defended hill in the final months of the war, Sen. Inouye was wounded in the stomach and yet still led an attack on a machine gun nest that had his men pinned down.

In the ensuing battle, the force of a German rifle grenade shot at close range shattered his right arm. It would take 20 months of hospitalization before he could return home as a captain with the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with cluster and 12 other medals and citations. Eventually a grateful nation upgraded his Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest award for military valor) to the Medal of Honor. Despite all efforts, his right arm could not be saved.

Like the rest of Hawai'i, the news of Sen. Inouye's death came as a shock on Maui, followed by an outpouring of praise and remembrance.

After learning the news, Maui County Council Chair-Elect Gladys Baisa said, "One of my earliest memories of him was my first visit to the U.S. Capitol in 1984 as the newly appointed director of MEO (Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.). He and Sen. Akaka welcomed me and made me feel at home. I was always secure knowing Hawai'i was in the hands of an amazing Washington team."

Jeanne Skog, president and CEO of the Maui Economic Development Board, Inc. (MEDB), worked closely for many years with the senator on initiatives to diversify Maui's agricultural and tourist-based economy.

"We have lost a friend--a wise, witty, compassionate, dedicated, visionary friend. It's been an honor to have him share MEDB's vision of a diversified economy and new options for our residents. He secured the dollars and always found the time to help encourage and prepare our children for technology-based careers."

Don Couch, running for election to the County Council in 2008, was able to secure the endorsement of the senator for his council race. It was an unusual step for a race that was considered local and not ordinarily given that kind of high-profile attention.

"I am deeply saddened at the loss of Sen. Dan Inouye, a great American hero. I am honored to have been supported by Senator Inouye and have had the pleasure working with him on several occasions. He always had the people of Maui as well as all of Hawai'i as his focus in our working discussions. We will miss his cheerful presence and warm and charming personality. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Aloha 'Oe, Senator Dan."

Hawai'i State Senate President Shan Tsutsui released a statement that said, in part, "Senator Dan Inouye served the people of Hawai'i and our country with great dignity and honor. A true statesman, his lifelong work has left an indelible mark on Hawai'i, and he leaves behind a legacy that we will never forget"

Gov. Neil Abercrombie shared the following remarks upon learning of the passing of Sen. Inouye:

"The senator gave everything. He knew the true meaning of 'Go for Broke.' He left us with a legacy of honor and service to the people of Hawai'i, to the people of this nation, without parallel," he said.

"The senator recently made clear to me his love and affection for us all. He said, 'I represented the people of Hawai'i and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did okay.' I'm sure we all believe he did okay," Gov. Abercrombie added.

Sen. Inouye was born in 1924. He attributed his concern for the Hawaiian people to his mother. As he grew up, he always remembered his mother telling him, "I cannot do anything to help the Hawaiian people, but you will be able to and you can." In 1948, Inouye married Margaret Shinobu Awamura, or "Maggie" as he called her, who had been born in Wailuku and then had moved to O'ahu with her family as a child. Their marriage lasted 57 years, until Maggie passed away on March 13, 2006. Sen. Inouye remarried on May 24, 2008 to Irene Hirono, who was president of the U.S. Japan Council. With his passing, in addition to his wife, the senator is survived by a son, Ken, and a granddaughter, Mary Margaret "Maggie" Inouye.

As he lay dying, Sen. Inouye is reported to have whispered one last word to those who had gathered by his side.

"Aloha," he told them. And then, too soon, he was gone.

 
 

 

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