The Inouye generation: Wounded, he kept serving


It's not whom you know that counts, it’s whom you’re thrust beside.

The Class of 1915 at West Point included Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, two others who became four-star generals, seven who won three stars, and 48 who attained the rank of general.

Perhaps the all-time champion center of serendipity was an old Battle Creek, Mich., sanitarium. It was presided over by members of the Kellogg family before it was converted during World War II into the Percy Jones Army Hospital. That became the home of three remarkable Army men who had suffered grievous war wounds.

On one floor were Robert Joseph Dole of Russell, Kan., shattered on a hill in Italy in the last month of the war and reckoned by almost everyone who saw him as destined for an early, swift, and merciful death; Philip Aloysius Hart of Bryn Mawr, Pa., his arm seeded with shrapnel from an artillery shell on Utah Beach during D-Day, and Daniel Ken Inouye of Honolulu, shot in the stomach and hit by an exploding grenade in Italy.

They had nothing in common except for their valor and suffering — and their injuries, especially to their arms. Mr. Inouye would lose one of his. Mr. Hart would have one that always bothered him. Mr. Dole had one that would be withered and weak for all of his days.

It isn’t the injuries that tied them together — that is why this is a story worth telling now — but the way they recovered, each in his own way, each at his own speed, each with an eye to be defined not by what he had lost but also what he could gain.

In time, Mr. Dole would become Senate majority leader, Republican vice presidential nominee, and GOP presidential nominee. Mr. Hart would become perhaps the most liberal member of the Senate, and so respected that an office building would bear his name.

Mr. Inouye would become a giant of the chamber, revered for his iron-strong integrity and remembered for his roles in the two signature scandals of the second half of the 20th century, Watergate and Iran-contra.

Mr. Inouye’s death last week at age 88 during a week fraught with budget negotiations underlines the changes in American politics since the time when he served with Mr. Dole, who left the chamber in 1996, and with Mr. Hart, who died in 1976.

“Danny always tried to work with others,” former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, now married to former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, Jr., of Tennessee, remembered in a telephone call. “Both Howard and I and Danny himself said we need to return to a different time, when we were willing to work across the aisle, not just willing to draw lines in the sand.”

It was in April, 1945, Mr. Dole recalled last week, that he and Mr. Inouye “became members of the ‘disabled community.’ ”

In later years Mr. Dole, 89, would express boundless admiration for Mr. Inouye. “Danny was exemplary,” Mr. Dole said. “He took it on the chin. He never looked back. He was very courageous.”

There was one other understanding, rooted in Battle Creek. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine remembers talking with Mr. Inouye and hearing of how the bedridden Mr. Dole told Mr. Inouye he was going to return to Kansas, go into politics, and somehow get to Congress.

Mr. Inouye beat him there: He became Hawaii’s first House member 15 months before Mr. Dole was elected.

“I called him up,” Mr. Mitchell remembers Mr. Inouye saying, “and told him, ‘I’m here — where are you?’ ”

Mr. Dole would be there soon enough.

David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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