By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Asian Pacific Americans lost a pillar of the community when Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died on Monday. He was 88.
His last words, his office said, was “aloha,” Hawaiian for welcome.
His passing was met with an outpouring of grief and sympathy from his colleagues in the U.S. Congress, where he served for more than 50 years, both as representative and senator.
A Democrat, he was considered the voice of reason and the national conscience during the Watergate scandal and the Iran-Contra hearings, which both happened under Republican administrations.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend, who has been a hero to us all – his ohana – from his service on the battlefields of World War II to the Senate floor, ” said Mike Honda, Democratic representative of California said in a statement.
He said that Inouye rose to become the highest-ranking Asian American and Pacific Islander politician and the most prominent in U.S. history.
“His impact on our lives and our community is immeasurable and unparalleled,” Honda said.
Inouye was also known for his advocacy for Filipino World War II veterans and has sponsored and fought for legislation that allowed them to receive benefits and recognition, even though the struggle for full benefits continues.
“Heroes should never be forgotten or ignored,” Sen. Inouye once said of the veterans, according to Honda. “We, as a grateful nation, will never forget Senator Inouye. Aloha nui loa.”
In a lengthy article article, the New York Times wrote that Inouye came to Washington at the birth of Hawaii in 1959 and became a national conscience.
In part, the New York Times piece reads:
“After the death of his West Virginia colleague Robert C. Byrd in June 2010, Mr. Inouye became the Senate’s senior member, with a tenure nearing 48 years, and president pro tempore, making him third in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president and speaker of the House. Mr. Byrd’s death also made him the highest-ranking public official of Asian descent in United States history. Months later, he was elected by another overwhelming margin to his ninth consecutive six-year term.
The courtly, soft-spoken Senator 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 of dollars 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 M. Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, he won wide admiration for patient but persistent questioning of the former attorney general John N. Mitchell and the White House aides H. R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and John Dean.
When the nationally televised hearings ended in 1974, a Gallup poll found that Mr. Inouye had an 84 percent favorable rating, even higher than the committee’s folksy chairman, Senator Sam Ervin, Democrat of North Carolina. Months later, Nixon, facing certain impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate, resigned. Many of his closest aides went to prison for their roles in the conspiracy.
In 1976, after revelations of abuse of power by the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other agencies, Mr. Byrd, the majority leader, appointed Mr. Inouye chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, which was established to come up with reforms and monitor clandestine operations. Mr. 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 American citizens’ 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.”
Senator 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 Imanaga Inouye, who had immigrated from Japan.
After high school, he went took premedical studies at the University of Hawaii and was a medical volunteer at Pearl Harbor, later joining the U.S. Army when Japanese-Americans were allowed to enlist.
He became a member of the highly-decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-nisei volunteer unit. He lost an arm during one of the battles in Europe.
Inouye 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.
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