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Daniel Inouye, Most-Senior Senator, War Hero, LGBT Rights Supporter, Dies At 88

by David Badash on December 17, 2012

in News,Politics

Post image for Daniel Inouye, Most-Senior Senator, War Hero, LGBT Rights Supporter, Dies At 88

U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, a war hero, LGBT rights supporter, and America’s most-senior Senator, has died of respiratory complications, at the age of 88. His final word was “Aloha.”

Senator Inouye’s fascinating life included representing, as a U.S. Congressman, Hawaii, on its first day of entering the Union, losing an arm in World War II, being awarded a World War II Medal of Honor for combat heroics, being married twice, and serving as the top-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history.

Chairman of the powerful United States Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Inouye was also the United States Senate President Pro Tempore, and served longer in the Senate than any other member in history, but one, Robert Byrd, and was the second-oldest sitting U.S. Senator, after New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg.

Inouye, a nine-term Senator, announced in 2010 plans to run in 2016. Responding to the mention he would be 92 in 2016, his next election, the Senator replied, “I have told my staff and I have told my family that when the time comes, when you question my sanity or question my ability to do things physically or mentally, I don’t want you to hesitate, do everything to get me out of here, because I want to make certain the people of Hawaii get the best representation possible.”

Senator Inouye was highly influential, and was instrumental in helping to pass the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Upon the bill’s passage, Senator Inouye wrote:

“Finally, all brave men and women who want to put on the uniform of our great nation and serve in the armed services may do so without having to hide who they are. My only regret is that nearly 13,000 men and women were expelled from the military during the 17 years that this discriminatory policy was in place. In every war we have had men and women of different sexual orientation who have risked their lives for their country. I fought alongside gay men during World War II and many of them were killed in combat. Those men were heroes. And once again, heroes will be allowed to defend their country, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Upon Senator Inouye’s passing, President Barack Obama issued this statement:

Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye.  The second-longest serving Senator in the history of the chamber, Danny represented the people of Hawaii in Congress from the moment they joined the Union.  In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve.  But it was his incredible bravery during World War II – including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor – that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Inouye family.

OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson released this statement today:

“Tonight our condolences go out to the family of Senator Inouye. He will be remembered for many things, but here at OutServe-SLDN, we will remember him above all as an advocate for fairness and equality, becoming a key supporter of the movement to repeal the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law when the chips were down and it mattered the most.”

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin released the following statement:

“Few have done so much for so many as Senator Daniel Inouye. He distinguished himself in everything he set his mind to—from his heroic service in World War II to his historic tenure and record of accomplishment in the U.S. Senate. He gave his entire life to serving his fellow citizens.

“LGBT Americans across this country especially honor his unequivocal support for full LGBT equality—most notably, his 1996 vote against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, his support for marriage equality and his co-sponsorship of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other pro-equality legislation. Senator Inouye was a trailblazing leader and he will remain in our memories for standing with his LGBT sisters and brothers from day one. We will miss him, and every American should be grateful to have been touched by the life of this remarkable man.”

Daniel Inouye’s World War II service was heroic and legendary. Wikipedia offers this stunning report:

On April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy 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 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 his own 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 pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left. As the German aimed his rifle to finish him off, Inouye tossed the grenade off-hand into the bunker and destroyed 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 to return to their positions, since, as he pointed out, “nobody called off the war!”

Wikipedia also notes:

Inouye’s wife of 57 years, Maggie, died of cancer on March 13, 2006. On May 24, 2008, he married Irene Hirano.

One of Senator Inouye’s final tweets, from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center:


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