Inouye, Daniel K.

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Daniel K. Inouye

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Born September 7, 1924

Honolulu, Hawaii

U.S. senator and decorated World War II hero

"My grandparents came over from Japan as migrant workers in the sugar cane fields. Both were semiliterate … and obviously, they were impoverished. Who in his right mind would have said their grandson would be sitting here [in the U.S. Capitol]?"

D aniel K. Inouye was the first American of Japanese descent to serve in the U.S. Congress. A hero from World War II (1939–45), he was awarded several medals for bravery. Inouye was elected the U.S. representative when Hawaii first became a state in 1959. In 1962, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and was reelected six more times. Inouye is best known as a longtime activist for civil rights and for serving on several historic Senate panels, including the nationally televised Senate Watergate Committee Hearings (1973–74). The committee investigated wrongdoing by President Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) and several of his aides that occurred during the president's 1972 reelection campaign.

Go for broke

Daniel Ken Inouye was born on September 7, 1924, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the oldest of four children of Hyotaro and Kame (Imanaga) Inouye, who were first-generation Japanese immigrants. Inouye's grandparents had emigrated from Japan and labored as migrant workers in Hawaii's sugarcane fields. Inouye's father worked as a file clerk to support his family.

As a young boy, Inouye attended both a special Japanese-language school and the Honolulu public schools. Inouye's hobbies during his youth included collecting stamps, doing chemistry and electronics, and raising homing pigeons (pigeons trained to fly away and return to a home base). He was also trained in how to provide emergency medical aid, and he planned on a career in medicine.

Inouye was fifteen years old when World War II began. The United States entered the war two years later following the surprise Japanese bombing of a U.S. naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Having had emergency medical training, Inouye was pressed into service following the bombing as the head of a first-aid team. He provided medical assistance for a week in the aftermath of the attack, and, as he noted, "I saw a lot of blood." Inouye graduated from high school in 1942. He then enrolled in the pre-med program (classes that prepare undergraduate college students for demanding medical school courses) at the University of Hawaii.

When the United States became involved in World War II, the government was unsure of how to treat Japanese Americans. The U.S. Selective Service Commission, in charge of drafting men into the armed forces, issued a directive designating all Americans of Japanese ancestry as "4-C," or "enemy alien." On the West Coast of the United States, where Japanese Americans were most prominent, the government sent up internment camps, areas designed to gather and keep Japanese Americans in a single place where they could be observed. In addition to protesting this form of "guilt by association," Japanese Americans petitioned the government to allow them to serve in the armed forces as a means of proving their loyalty to their country.

The U.S. Army formed a special unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for volunteers of Japanese ancestry. Inouye quit college and enlisted in the army in 1943. He was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Nicknamed the "Go for Broke" regiment, the 442nd fought in Europe. Inouye joined them when Allied forces were fighting in Italy (the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and others formed the Allied Forces; they fought against the Axis powers, primarily Germany, Italy, and Japan). Inouye fought for nearly three months in the Rome-Arno campaign—the successful Allied offensive to liberate Rome, Italy.

Japanese American Internment Camps

In a speech in 2002 delivered at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Daniel Inouye recalled how Japanese Americans were treated after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

A few weeks after December 7, 1941, the U.S. Selective Service Commission issued a directive designating all Americans of Japanese ancestry as "4-C," or "enemy alien." It meant that under no circumstance could we of Japanese ancestry serve in the military of the United States. We could not be drafted, nor could we volunteer.

Soon thereafter, Executive Order 9066 was issued by the White House establishing 10 internment camps at which to house all Japanese—citizens and noncitizens—residing on the west coast of the United States. Officially, these locations were designated as concentration camps. None of the inmates had committed any criminal acts, nor were they ever tried in a court of law. Such was the hysteria of war at that time.

And so, we young Americans of Japanese ancestry immediately began petitioning the President of the United States to be permitted to put on the uniform of the land, if only to prove our loyalty and demonstrate our commitment to the essence of your three sacred words: "Duty, Honor, Country."

After several months of consideration, the President of the United States issued another Executive Order establishing a special army combat team consisting of Japanese American volunteers, with words I will remember: "Americanism is a matter of the mind and the heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."

With that, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was established, made up primarily of Caucasian-American officers and Japanese-American enlisted personnel. I was one of them.

Bravery and leadership

The 442nd Regiment was then moved to France, which was under control of Germany. The regiment participated in the historic and triumphant Battle of the Lost Battalion (October 1944), where they helped rescue an American battalion surrounded by Germans. Considered one of the most significant military battles of the twentieth century, the Battle of the Lost Battalion turned what appeared to be a German triumph into an Allied victory that helped loosen Germany's grip on France. The D-Day invasion in June 1944,

where thousands of Allied troops landed by ships on the beaches of northern France, began a full-scale Allied invasion to liberate Europe and to defeat the Axis powers.

Inouye was back in Italy in 1945 as a platoon leader. In the last days before Germany surrendered and World War II ended in Europe, he was leading his platoon up a slope where German soldiers were controlling an area from machine-gun nests (small, carefully concealed trenches overlooking an open area from which gunmen could easily hit their targets). He was hit in the abdomen by a bullet that came out his back, barely missing his spine. Still, Inouye advanced up a hill toward one of the nests, came to within five yards, and tossed two grenades that blasted the machine gunners. He was able to blow up another nest and was exchanging fire when a grenade exploded and shattered his right arm. He continued exchanging fire before a bullet hit him in the leg and knocked him down the hill. Still, Inouye directed his platoon until the enemy was defeated and his men regrouped.

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For his display of bravery and leadership, Inouye was made a captain. He received many honors, including a Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest award for military valor), a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart with cluster, and twelve other medals and citations. In 2000, Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, by President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001).

It took a long time for Inouye to recuperate from his wounds. He lost his right arm. After his wounds were tended to, he was flown back to the United States. He spent twenty months in an Army hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. World War II officially ended in Europe in May 1945 and in Asia in September 1945. On May 27, 1947, Inouye was honorably discharged from the army with the rank of captain. He returned home to Hawaii.

Distinguished political service begins

Inouye re-enrolled in the University of Hawaii on the GI bill, a special program for soldiers that helps finance their education. He studied government and economics and earned a bachelor's degree in 1950. The year before, he married Margaret Shinobu Awamura. They would have one child, Daniel Ken Jr.

Inouye turned his attention to studying law and was accepted at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. While there, he became editor of the George Washington Law Review, and began his political career as a volunteer worker for the Democratic National Committee. Inouye earned his law degree in 1952 and returned with his wife to Hawaii, where he took a position as assistant public prosecutor in Honolulu.

Inouye first ran for public office in 1954. He won election to the Hawaii territorial House of Representatives. At the time, Hawaii, now a state, was still an American territory, with a government similar to that of a state, but having no voting representation in Congress. He won a second term to the territorial house and fellow Democrats voted him as majority leader, the most powerful member of the political party that has a majority of elected representatives. In 1958, he was elected to the territorial senate.

An Excerpt from Inouye's Medal of Honor Citation

"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 [fire back], 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 1959, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted into the United States as the forty-ninth and fiftieth states, respectively. The two new states would now be represented in the U.S. Congress. As a very popuIar politician in Hawaii, Inouye ran and won election to Hawaii's first seat in the House of Representatives in 1959. He served two terms as Hawaii's representative in the House. Inouye was a member of the Banking and Currency Committee and distinguished himself as an outspoken supporter of civil rights. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, he was able to support sugar and pineapple growers, crucial to the economy in Hawaii.

Among the hundred most important Americans

In 1962, Hawaii's first senator, Oren E. Long (1889–1965), announced he was retiring, and he endorsed Inouye to succeed him. Inouye swept through a primary election to become the Democratic Party's nominee. He defeated his Republican opponent in the general election by a 2-1 margin. Also in 1962, Inouye was selected as one of the hundred most important Americans by Life magazine, among the most widely read magazines of the time.

In the Senate, Inouye was an enthusiastic supporter of the programs of President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63). After Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Inouye supported the programs of Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69), Kennedy's successor as president. Inouye continued his civil rights activism. The civil rights movement was gaining momentum, leading up to the famous "March on Washington" in 1963 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The act outlawed all discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic origin, and it covered employment, education, housing, and public accommodations.

Inouye also supported the Johnson administration's social welfare policies, called the Great Society. Johnson proposed to use America's wealth to fight a war on poverty. Farreaching legislation was passed from 1965 to 1968 to improve economic opportunities and education; to provide help for citizens against rising medical costs; to ensure fair housing and labor practices; and to reform immigration laws that had favored immigrants from Europe for many decades.

Inouye's support for these pieces of legislation won him increasing power in the Senate and national recognition. He was chosen to be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The keynote speaker makes the first major speech at a convention or gathering, setting the tone for activities that will follow. Inouye focused his speech on the need for racial harmony.

Despite civil rights legislation and advances in opportunities for nonwhites, social unrest was common in the 1960s. There were race riots in several cities, most notably in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California, in 1965, when thirty-five people died, and in Detroit, Michigan, in 1967, where over forty people died. In addition, demonstrations against the Vietnam War (1954–75) became commonplace after 1965, including a massive peace march on Washington, D.C., in 1967. Outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, rioting and other civil unrest broke out. Young people who gathered to protest were met with aggressive resistance by the Chicago police force.

Inouye supported America's growing involvement in the Vietnam War, which was being fought between communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam. Military advisors were sent by the United States beginning in 1961, and in 1965 American troops were sent. Over five hundred thousand troops were stationed there by 1968. The toll of death on distant battlefields combined with violence at home—most notably the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) in April and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968) in June—made 1968 an especially turbulent year.

President Johnson gave up his reelection bid early in 1968, and the Democrats, led by Vice President Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978), would lose the general election in November to Republican Richard Nixon. Inouye, meanwhile, won reelection to the Senate seat with 83 percent of the vote. During his second Senate term, Inouye reversed his support for American involvement in Vietnam, believing too many lives were being lost in a conflict that seemed to have no end. But American involvement continued until 1975. To avoid another Vietnam-like conflict in the future, Inouye cosponsored the War Powers Act of 1973. This bill was intended to limit a president's power to commit American military forces without congressional approval but has had only modest success.

High-profile Senate committees

In 1973 and 1974, Inouye served on the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, known commonly as the Senate Watergate Committee. The committee was formed to investigate allegations that members of President Nixon's administration, and perhaps the president himself, had authorized and covered up for individuals engaged in illegal activities for Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign. Watergate was the name of a Washington, D.C., hotel where burglars raided an office of the Democratic Party.

As the investigation deepened, a series of dramatic revelations provided evidence that the president himself knew about the burglary and authorized a cover-up, an attempt to conceal information about a crime. To provide the public with as much information as possible, the committee began nationally televised hearings in which witnesses were called to testify. The committee helped uncover clear evidence of the president's involvement, which led in 1974 to President Nixon becoming the first president to resign from office. Inouye was one of several senators, including Sam Ervin (1896–1985), a Democrat from North Carolina, and Howard Baker (1925–), a Republican from Tennessee, who distinguished themselves in front of a national audience and won high ratings (over 80 percent approval) in polls taken at the conclusion of the hearings.

In 1987, Inouye was appointed chairman of a committee looking into abuse of power at the executive level. The Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, popularly known as the Iran-Contra Committee, investigated reports that members of the National Security Staff of President Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) had sold arms to Iran. Such an act was in violation of international law and official American policy. Additionally, profits from the arms sale were allegedly used to secretly finance a band of resistance fighters seeking to force out the government of Nicaragua. Foreign aid was supposed to be subject to congressional approval. The nationally televised hearings of this committee revealed that some members of the Reagan administration were acting without supervision, and two officials were found guilty of illegal activities.

Inouye also chaired the 1976 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee was established to set up regulations for undercover operations abroad and internal operations against American citizens by the intelligence community. The regulations were a response to revelations that U.S. intelligence organizations had engaged in assassination plots and other international conspiracies.

Long Senate tenure

When Inouye won election in 1998 to the Senate for a seventh time, he became one of the top ten senators in length of service in American history. During his seventh term, he continued his long-standing support for abortion rights, consumer rights, gun control, and public works programs to create jobs for the unemployed. His civil rights activism continued in his position as chair of the Committee on Indian Affairs, and his committee work included such areas as defense, commerce, science, transportation, and communications. Continuing to serve the interests of Hawaii, Inouye helped the National Park Service acquire over 100,000 acres of the Kahuku Ranch in Kau, to protect rare and endangered bird and mammal species, as an expansion of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In 2002, Inouye was honored with the Sylvanus Thayer Award, given annually since 1958 by the Association of Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The award honors "an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, 'Duty, Honor, Country.'"

In his acceptance speech at West Point, Inouye noted, "In a sense, this is a homecoming for me. Fifty-seven years ago [when Inouye enlisted in the army], I was advised that I would be traveling to West Point to begin my studies as a cadet. But circumstances of war brought about a sudden change."

The Hill, The Capitol Newsletter interviewed Inouye in his Senate office in 1999, forty years to the day since he was first elected to Congress. "My grandparents came over from Japan as migrant workers in the sugar cane fields," Inouye noted. "Both were semiliterate [having a limited ability to read and write]. They were not scholars or great leaders, and obviously, they were impoverished. Who in his right mind would have said their grandson would be sitting here?"

—Roger Matuz

For More Information


Chang, Thelma. I Can Never Forget: Men of the 100th/442nd. Tucson, AZ: Sigi Productions, 1991.

Goodsell, Jane. Daniel Inouye. New York: Crowell, 1977.

Marvis, Barbara J. Contemporary American Success Stories: Famous People of Asian Ancestry. Hockessin, DE: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 1994.

Nijya, Brian, ed. Encyclopedia of Japanese American History: An A to Z Reference from 1868 to the Present. Updated ed. New York: Facts on File, 2000.

Web Sites

Eisele, Albert. "Sen. Inouye Biography." The Hill, The Capitol Newsletter. From Kauai Economic Development Board. (accessed on March 16, 2004).

"Thayer Award Speech." AOG: Association of Graduates, USMA, West Point. (accessed on March 16, 2004).