Senator Daniel InouyeSenator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday. The Senator was a decorated World War II veteran and the second-longest serving senator in history. There have only been 31 individuals in U.S. history, including Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, who have been awarded this esteemed honor.
Senator Inouye was not just a WWII vet; he was a true war hero. Before he served his home state for over 58 years in Washington, he was a second-generation Japanese American living in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans, he immediately signed up. The stories that follow are those of a truly amazing war hero.
Inouye was promoted to sergeant within the first year and was given his own platoon. He served in Italy and France, and was eventually surrounded by German forces in battle. He was promoted for his actions there, and at one point was shot in the chest. His life was saved by two silver dollar coins in his shirt pocket -- coins that he carried with him the rest of the war as good luck charms.
In one particularly bloody battle in Tuscany, the Nazis opened fire on Inouye’s men from three concealed machine gun stations. They were pinned to the ground by the bullets flying over them, but our hero went in for the attack anyway, getting himself shot in the stomach in the process. He destroyed one machine gun nest with hand grenades and moved on to the next when he was shot in the arm by one of the Germans.
What happened next is totally unbelievable. When Inouye lost his arm, he had been holding a live grenade that he was about to throw into the enemy’s camp. The live grenade was clenched involuntarily in his no-longer-attached-to-his-body fist. He waved off his men trying to retrieve it, for fear his hand would relax and it would go off. He crawled over, pried it out of the fingers, threw it at the German bunker, got shot in the leg, and finally finished them off with his handgun.
When he awoke at the bottom of a ridge, he purportedly told his men to get back to their positions as medics carried him away, because “nobody called off the war!”
He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart, and later President Bill Clinton awarded him the Medal of Honor. It was well deserved. This man overcame a distinct prejudice to serve admirably in the army and later on Capitol Hill.
Rest in peace, Senator.
Image via roberthuffstutter/Flickr