Daniel Inouye


As the teenage son of Japanese immigrants during World War II, Daniel Inouye wanted to prove his American-ness. Before U.S. Senator Inouye of Hawaii died this week at 88, he set a standard of public service that seldom has been equaled.

Mr. Inouye was Hawaii’s first representative in the U.S. House after it became a state in 1959, and the first Japanese-American elected to the House. Four years later, Hawaiians sent him to the Senate. In 2010, he was elected to a ninth term with 75 percent of the vote.

Mr. Inouye gave the keynote address at the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was considered for vice president in 1968 and 1980.

Because of his reputation for integrity, he was named to the Senate committee whose investigation of the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. He chaired the committee that probed the Iran-contra affair during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

At the time of his death, Mr. Inouye was president pro tempore of the Senate, third in line to the presidency. The Senate’s longest-serving current member, he was the last remaining senator to have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But all that came after his greatest service to America. After the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Inouye, then a high school student, treated U.S. service members as a Red Cross volunteer. Initially barred from military service, he and other Japanese-Americans successfully lobbied President Franklin Roosevelt to change the rules and allow them to fight for their country.

Mr. Inouye served with the 442nd Regiment, a segregated Japanese-American unit that became one of the most highly decorated battalions in World War II. And he was among its most heroic members.

Wounded several times in battle, it took the amputation of his right arm, which was nearly blown off, to end the war for him. He recovered in a Battle Creek, Mich., hospital, where he became friends with future Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. He received 16 medals and citations for his service, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Inouye and 21 other Japanese-American veterans of World War II the Congressional Medal of Honor. The recognition was long overdue.

Throughout his long life and political career, Mr. Inouye made a habit of service. A grateful nation mourns the loss of this member of the Greatest Generation.