Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI), who was arguably one of the toughest lawmakers of recent times, succumbed to respiratory complications and passed away today at 5:01 pm at Walter Reed National Military Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 88 years old.
Inouye has represented Hawaii in Congress since it gained statehood in 1959, first as a representative and, since 1963, as a senator. At the time of his death he was president pro tempore of the Senate and chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
While his political accomplishments were many, it was his legendary actions on an Italian battlefield during World War II that made him seem larger than life, despite his tiny size (he stood about shoulder high to yours truly, who is a mere six-feet tall).
For those actions, Inouye -- who joined the Army at the age of 17 shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- received the Medal of Honor. (The award was presented to him in 2000 by President Bill Clinton after Congress upgraded the Distinguished Service Cross he originally received.) Here's his citation for the Medal of Honor. Read it, take inspiration, and feel completely inadequate.
Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper's bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
His last word was "aloha," according to his office.
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.