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A champion of Japanese-Americans

Inouye fought hard not only in war, but also in Congress and won an apology and compensation for WWII internees

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 10:11 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012

Daniel K. Inouye, the last Medal of Honor winner living in Hawaii from World War II's highly decorated 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was a source of great pride and inspiration to the Japa­nese-American community in the islands.

While he made a name for himself for bravery and sacrifice on the battlefields of Europe in the unit of mostly Japa­nese-American soldiers, Ino­uye continued endearing himself to the community upon his return home, where he battled social injustice through his achievements and the causes he advocated, such as advancing, along with Sen. Spark Matsu­naga, the bill that became the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing Japa­nese-American internees with a U.S. apology and compensation.

"Sen. Inouye was a great American hero, but more than that, he was a voice for people that did not have one, and that included Japa­nese-Americans, who were interred during WWII," said Carol Haya­shino, president and executive director of the Japa­nese Cultural Center of Hawaii. "It was through his political leadership that the nation looked at its history and rectified the injustices of the past."

Hayashino, who met Ino­uye during the redress campaign of the 1980s, said the senator believed strongly in telling the story of Japa­nese-Americans from his generation so that history would not repeat itself.

She recalls that Ino­uye would often say, "Justice is a matter of continuing education." And to that end he continued to shine a light on his experiences and those of his contemporaries.

More recently, Haya­shino said, Ino­uye was involved in securing funding for research that led to a minidocumentary on Hono­uli­uli, the longest-operating confinement site in Hawaii. The one-hour documentary, "The Untold Story," debuted at Hawaii's International Film Festival in November and will be replayed Feb. 16 at Ward Theatre, she said.

Inouye also was instrumental in the Price of Freedom tour, which will bring the Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded to nisei (second-generation Japa­nese-American) veterans in 2011 to Hawaii last spring, Haya­­shino said.

"He left quite a legacy," she said. "He was a man of principal and courage. He was fearless. He was always willing to speak up. That was his voice. That was the voice that we lost (Monday)."

Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO Mike McCartney, a grandson of Okinawan immigrants who came to the isles to work in the plantations, said Ino­uye was an inspiration to him and other Japa­nese-Americans of his generation. For Hawaii's young baby boomers growing up in the aftermath of the war, McCartney said Ino­uye was proof that America is a land of diversity and a reminder not to discriminate.

"I remember watching him at the Watergate hearings," McCartney said. "All my life I heard about this man, what he did in the war and what he did later to stand up for everyone. My uncle's family grew up in the camps; my grandfather's fishing boat was taken away because they figured he was a spy. There are a lot of stories like that — many families had to really struggle during the war and lost a lot. He helped us move ahead."

McCartney said Ino­uye's legendary career inspired him to enter politics; however, he only began to fully appreciate his mentor when he visited France as a young state senator and saw the townfolk paying homage to a statue of three Japa­nese-American soliders near the battlegrounds of Ino­uye's youth.

"That's when it all connected for me. We have what we have in Hawaii today because of him and men like him," McCartney said. "He's irreplaceable, but the lessons that he taught us and instilled in our generation have become part of the fabric of our DNA."

Mariko Miho, a granddaughter of interned Japa­nese-Americans and daughter of the late Judge Katsugo "Kats" Miho, who fought in the 442nd, said Ino­uye was part of a remarkable generation of human beings who came together under the most adverse circumstances.

"They cared about their aunties and their uncles and their calabash cousins, and they had to rise and fight against an enemy that looked like them," Miho said. "My dad was in the field artillery; it was a different unit but they were all brothers. They all lived in the trenches and ate the same food. They fought together and cried together and came home together to help build Hawaii."

Shortly before her father's death on Sept. 11, 2011, Miho said, Ino­uye took the time to pay a visit to his nursing home.

"My father was so excited," she said. "As frail as he was, he got dressed in his 442nd uniform and organized the staff and all the other veterans to greet him in the cafeteria front and center. He brought out the best in all of us, not just the Japa­nese-American community."



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