Obituary: Daniel Inouye / Hawaii's quiet voice of conscience in Senate
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Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who went to Washington, D.C., at the birth of his state in 1959, dominated public life in the Hawaiian islands for more than 50 years and became a quiet voice of national conscience during the Watergate scandal and the Iran-Contra affair, died Monday in Bethesda, Md. He was 88.
A statement by his Washington office said he died of respiratory complications at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His last word was "Aloha," the statement said.
A hero of World War II who lost his right arm in combat in Europe, Mr. Inouye, a Democrat, served two terms in the House of Representatives early in his career and was first elected to the Senate in 1962. He was the first Japanese-American elected to both the House and the Senate.
After the death of his West Virginia colleague Robert Byrd in June 2010, Mr. Inouye became the Senate's senior member, with a tenure nearing 48 years, and president pro tem, making him third in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president and speaker of the House. Byrd's death also made him the highest-ranking public official of Asian descent in U.S. history. Months later, he was elected by another overwhelming margin to his ninth consecutive six-year term.
The courtly, soft-spoken Mr. Inouye (pronounced in-NO-ay) often deferred publicly to his outspoken and ambitious colleagues, seemingly content behind the scenes to champion Hawaii's interests. He funneled billions to strengthen the state's economy, promote jobs and protect natural resources.
But as crises arose from time to time, he was called upon to take center stage. In 1973, as a member of the Senate Watergate committee, which investigated illegal activities in President Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, he won wide admiration for patient but persistent questioning of former attorney general John Mitchell and White House aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Dean.
In 1976, after revelations of abuse of power by the CIA, the FBI and other agencies, Byrd, the majority leader, appointed Mr. Inouye as chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, which was established to come up with reforms and monitor clandestine operations. Byrd hoped Mr. Inouye could win the confidence of a skeptical public and a demoralized intelligence community.
Mr. Inouye largely succeeded. His panel wrote a new intelligence charter, which protected Americans' rights, established rules for counterintelligence operations inside the United States, barred the use of journalists and clergymen as covert agents, and required the president to certify that covert actions were necessary for national security. President Jimmy Carter praised his "professionalism and competence."
Mr. Inouye's reputation for integrity made him an ideal choice as chairman of the Senate committee that investigated the Iran-Contra affair in 1987. The committee confirmed that high-ranking American officials, acting in violation of President Ronald Reagan's policies and the will of Congress, had secretly sold weapons to Iran and used the profits to support rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Daniel Ken Inouye was born in Honolulu on Sept. 7, 1924, the oldest of four children of Hyotaro and Kame Imagaga Inouye, who had immigrated from Japan. He enrolled in premedical studies at the University of Hawaii and was a medical volunteer at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in 1941.
In 1943, when the Army lifted its ban on Japanese-Americans, Mr. Inouye joined the new 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the first all-nisei volunteer unit. It became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. In 1944, fighting in Italy and France, he won a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He was shot in the chest, but the bullet was stopped by two silver dollars in his pocket.
On April 21, 1945, weeks before the end of the war in Europe, he led an assault near San Terenzo, Italy. His platoon was pinned down by three machine guns. Although shot in the stomach, he ran forward and destroyed one emplacement with a hand grenade and another with his submachine gun. He was crawling toward the third when enemy fire nearly severed his right arm, leaving a grenade, in his words, "clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore." He pried it loose, threw it with his left hand and destroyed the bunker. Stumbling forward, he silenced resistance with gun bursts before being hit in the leg and collapsing unconscious.
His mutilated right arm was amputated in a field hospital. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, America's highest military award, by President Bill Clinton in 2000. (Members of the 442nd were believed to have been denied proper recognition because of their race.) He spent two years in Army hospitals, including one in Michigan where he met Bob Dole and Philip Hart, wounded veterans who would also become senators. Mr. Inouye was discharged as a captain in 1947.
Mr. Inouye graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1950 and received his law degree from George Washington University in 1952. He plunged into politics in Honolulu and was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954 and to the Territorial Senate in 1958.
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, he won the islands' first congressional seat and became a protege of Speaker Sam Rayburn and a celebrity in Washington. In 1967, Mr. Inouye published a book about his early life, "Journey to Washington," written with Lawrence Elliott.
First Published December 18, 2012 12:00 am