Sen. Daniel Inouye, Decorated War Veteran, Law Grad and Longtime US Leader, Dies at Age 88


Sen. Daniel K. Inouye

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, a respected leading lawmaker and the longest-serving Democrat in the U.S. Senate, died Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was 88 years old.

Inouye, a highly decorated combat veteran of World War II, was the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, the Washington Post (reg. req.) reports. He was elected in 1958 to the House of Representatives, and in 1962 he was elected to the Senate.

The son of working-class parents, Inouye earned a law degree at George Washington University in 1952 after completing his wartime service. Influenced by a friendship formed at an army hospital in Michigan with Bob Dole—another hospitalized soldier who also was to go on to become a famous name in the Senate—Inouye liked to say in later years that he “went with the Dole plan” of law school, serving in the state legislature and moving on to Congress.

Among many milestones, he had a leading role in Senate hearings about the Watergate break-in and the U.S. involvement in the Iran Contra arms scandal. Particularly known for his role as a persuasive behind-the-scenes unifying force and his gentlemanly behavior, Inouye made headlines with uncharacteristic public bluntness when he remarked “what a liar” during a break after sworn testimony by John Ehrlichman during the Watergate hearings. The microphone, the senator had thought, was turned off. It wasn’t.

Influenced by experiences such as being refused a haircut in a San Francisco barbershop after the war—still wearing his lieutenant’s uniform, with a pinned empty sleeve where his right arm should have been—because, he was told, “We don’t serve Japs here,” the senator was known for speaking eloquently on behalf of civil rights and social welfare programs, the Post recounts.

As keynote speaker at the Democratic national convention in Chicago in 1968, Inouye gave what political journalist Haynes Johnson described as a little-noticed “remarkable speech” during a time of national political disturbances after the assassinations of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Inouye talked about a worrisome “loss of faith” among his fellow Americans, not “simply a loss of religious faith” but “a loss of faith in our country, its purposes and its institutions … a retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship,” and called for the country to focus on rebuilding trust in government.

Additional coverage:

Honolulu Civil Beat: “Daniel K. Inouye”

Los Angeles Times: “Hawaii’s nine-term senator, Daniel Inouye, dies at 88”

New York Times (reg. req.): “Daniel Inouye, Hawaii’s Quiet Voice of Conscience in Senate, Dies at 88”

Hawaii Insider (San Francisco Chronicle): “How Sen. Daniel Inouye ‘went for broke’”

Updated at 6:50 p.m. to include further information from Washington Post obituary and link to additional coverage.

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