The news has been brutal this week. I was running errands with Jay when I saw Senator Inouye’s name in the CNN headline, and my heart sank.
Senator Inouye was a living legend, a man who personified what it means to be “the greatest generation”. He stared first bigotry, then Nazis, then Washington politics in the eye — and I don’t believe he ever lost. Among his many accomplishments and life events:
- teaching first aid in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941;
- volunteering for the armed forces after the attack
- volunteering again (and being accepted) when the Army’s ban on Japanese was lifted in 1943
- serving in the legendary 442nd regimental combat team, the most decorated unit in US military history,
- where the record of his service strains belief, documented to include:
- walking off an explosion of grenade shrapnel into his leg;
- serving in six combat operations;
- advancing to Sergeant and participating in the also legendary rescue of the lost battalion, where 216 Nisei died and 856 were injured to rescue 200 Texan infantrymen;
- losing his arm in Italy, after surviving the above operation in France, in an engagement in which he is reported to have single-handedly killed 25 Germans (I’ll link again as it does truly strain the imagination);
- and receiving the Distinguished Service Cross for his service, later upgraded to a Medal of Honor, along with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart;
- completing a law degree after returning home and hieing himself to Washington;
- where he fought for the rights of Japanese Americans and shepherded vindication and reparations finally made in the 1980s;
- and where he became the second longest-serving Senator in American history, serving nine consecutive terms,
- never lost an election,
- received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun and the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers from the Emperor of Japan,
- and became President Pro Tempore of the Senate, making him the highest-ranking Asian American politician in US history.
Obviously one day we would have lost him, but I wish it hadn’t been so soon.
It is hard to imagine a more epic life, or a truer definition of the word ‘hero’. We are much diminished for his loss, though far more fortunate are we that he lived. Aloha, Inouye-san.