Daniel K. Inouye, J.D. ’52, the country's second longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate who represented the people and state of Hawaii for more than 50 years, passed away on December 17 in Washington.
He spent the majority of his life performing acts of public service, beginning as a Red Cross volunteer in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and ending as the person who was third in line of succession for the Presidency.
After spending days tending to wounded soldiers, sailors, and civilians in December of 1941, Inouye attempted to enlist, but was refused on the grounds of his Japanese heritage. Along with tens of thousands of other Japanese- Americans, he was given the classification of “enemy alien.”
He continued his pre-medical studies at the University of Hawaii until the United States ended the ban on Japanese- American enlistment in 1943. Inouye joined the Army and volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which consisted almost entirely of second-generation Japanese- Americans. Inouye rose through the ranks from Private to Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant.
The 442nd RCT fought through Italy, France, and Germany, and became one of the most decorated units in the Army. Between 1944 and 1945, soldiers in the 442nd received over 9,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Stars, and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 19 of which were later upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000.
Daniel Inouye was among those chosen to receive the nation’s highest military award for bravery in combat. He was severely wounded in Tuscany, Italy in 1945 as he led an assault on the German line. He cleared three enemy machine gun nests with grenades and a Thompson submachine gun despite being shot three times. He recovered from his wounds, but ended up losing his right arm.
With his plans of becoming a doctor curtailed by his wounds, Inouye returned to the University of Hawaii, where he received a B.A. in political science in 1950. He then came to George Washington University Law School, where he was elected into the Pi Delta Phi legal honor society. He received his J.D. in 1952.
He returned to Hawaii and was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954, where he was selected as the Democratic Majority Leader. Four years later, he was elected to the Territorial Senate. When Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959, Inouye became the first At-Large Congressman representing the state.
In 1962, Inouye was elected as a U.S. Senator, and stayed in office for five decades. He served as a vocal and effective proponent of civil rights and fairness towards all Americans, helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. He was also a key sponsor of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18, and fought for reparations for Japanese-Americans who were interned in camps during World War II. In 2009, he secured funding to compensate Filipinos who served in the United States Army during World War II, but were denied any benefits as the result of the Rescission Act of 1946.
His political profile rose dramatically after he made the keynote address at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, in which he came out against the war in Vietnam and spoke out against the racism that was still prevalent in much of the country.
In 1973, he served on the United States Senate Watergate Committee, whose findings eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Through the course of his career in the Senate, He served as Chairman on the Select Intelligence Committee, the Commerce Committee, and the Appropriations Committee. In 2010, he was selected as President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
Senator Inouye remained actively involved with GW during his time in Washington, DC. He served as an emeritus trustee from 1982–1992, and his son, Kenny, received a B.A. in 1988 and an M.A. in 1994. In 2008, Senator Inouye received an honorary S.J.D. from GW Law, and delivered the keynote commencement address to the graduating class, noting that he had skipped his own graduation ceremony from GW Law due to his eagerness to begin studying for the Hawaii Bar exam.
“While I missed my graduation ceremony 56 years ago, I am honored to share in yours today,” he said. “And now, as you go forth, build on your achievements and the values you have gained at GW Law. All of you have much to contribute to making our nation and the world better places for future generations.”