POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 01:18 p.m. HST, Dec 19, 2012
Daniel Ken Inouye, the grandson of Japanese immigrants, sacrificed his right arm for his country in combat during World War II and devoted much of his life as an unwavering voice for Hawaii in the U.S. Senate.
Inouye was a monumental force in Hawaii politics who represented the islands as a Democrat in Washington, D.C., with poise and dignity since statehood in 1959. He was the first Japanese-American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and over nine terms he rose to become the Senate President Pro Tempore, third in line to the presidency. He was the second-longest serving senator in history behind the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
Inouye, who was given the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, for his bravery on the battlefield in Italy in World War II, had prominent roles in the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 and in congressional investigations into the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals in the 1970s and 1980s.
Inouye was a patriot who believed in military expansion yet had a soldier's view of war. He was a respected voice on equality and civil rights who had experienced the stain of racism firsthand.
But the senator was probably best known as an unapologetic advocate for Hawaii. For a half-century, Inouye directed billions in federal money that helped transform the islands from sugar and pineapple plantations into a prosperous state known worldwide for its tourism and strategic military value.
"There have only been a very few people who have been able to fulfill that role with great success. And his was the greatest success," said Tom Coffman, a Hawaii author and historian.
Inouye never lost an election and earned over two million votes during a political career that began with the historic Democratic takeover of the Territorial Legislature in 1954 and ended with his ninth Senate victory in 2010. The senator, who was often uncomfortable with public attention, preferred to stay mostly in the background nationally but could be merciless when it came to using his influence for Hawaii.
"He's long been known as a fierce protector of home-state interests," said Christopher Deering, a political science professor at George Washington University in Washington, where Inouye went to law school. "He's also been a highly respected inside player."
Born in Honolulu on Sept. 7, 1924, at home on Queen Emma Street with the help of a midwife, Inouye grew up in McCully and Moiliili, which were then largely poor, working-class Japanese-American neighborhoods.
His father, Hyotaro, came to Hawaii as a young boy with his parents, who were lured by recruiters to work in the sugar plantations on Kauai. They had planned to stay only long enough to pay off a $400 debt caused by a fire that had started in the family home in Yokoyama, a small village in southern Japan. But they ended up making a new life in the islands over the decades it took to raise the money and send it back home to compensate the other villagers.
His mother, Kame, was born on Maui to Japanese parents but orphaned as a young girl. She lived with a Hawaiian family and, later, the Rev. Daniel Klinefelter, who led a Methodist orphanage, and had a deep respect for both Hawaiian culture and Christianity.
Inouye's parents met at church and always preached family honor and discipline, a blend of Japanese tradition and Methodist sensibility. Inouye was the eldest of four children — sister May and brothers John and Robert — and was named for Klinefelter and the biblical prophet Daniel.
In his 1967 autobiography, "Journey to Washington," written with Lawrence Elliott of Reader's Digest, Inouye recalled that he did not wear shoes regularly until he reached McKinley High School. His father, a jewelry clerk, and his mother, a homemaker, "were so caught up in the adventure of raising a family, and worked so hard to preserve and protect it, that apparently they had no time to worry about being poor.
"There was always enough to eat in our house — although sometimes barely — but even more important there was a fanatic conviction that opportunity awaited those who had the heart and strength to pursue it."
Inouye learned to speak Japanese at home and attended Japanese school in the afternoons after his public-school classes had ended. But he always saw himself as an American first and took the country's revolutionary history and the democratic ideals of the Founding Fathers as his own. He explained, with some degree of pride, that he was thrown out of Japanese school as a teenager for challenging a jingoistic priest.
His family, he wrote, had "a sort of built-in eagerness to become part of the mainstream of American life."
As a teenager, Inouye liked tropical fish, homing pigeons and Big Band giants like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. He also liked pool and cockfighting, but said the closest thing he came to real trouble was being caught underage at a pool hall.
Inouye wanted to be a doctor and had taken a first-aid course from the American Red Cross, but he was not emotionally prepared for what he saw after Japanese fighter planes filled the skies over Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941.
The Red Cross called him into service at an aid station at Lunalilo School, where he cared for the civilian victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor, including many who were injured by friendly fire.
The surprise bombing, which he would later describe as a "monstrous betrayal," changed the direction of his life. It also exposed him to the racism that infected the United States, even in a territory as diverse as Hawaii. He felt no matter what Japanese-Americans did to fight Japan and Germany in World War II, or the extent of their sacrifices at home, "there would always be those who would look at us and think — and some would say it out loud — ‘dirty Jap.'"
At the time, nisei were not allowed in the military, so Inouye enrolled in pre-medical courses at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed in 1943 to let nisei volunteer for the war, Inouye believed the president was speaking to him. "Americanism is a matter for the mind and heart," Roosevelt said. "Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."
Inouye was initially passed over by the Army because he was already serving the war effort with the Red Cross. But he was so eager, and so driven by instinct to prove his loyalty, that he quit the aid station and was among the last chosen in Hawaii for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. "All I wanted to do was carry a rifle," he remembered.
His father gave him a simple piece of advice before he left for basic training on the Mainland: "Don't bring dishonor to the family."
Drawn from nisei volunteers from different social backgrounds, the segregated 442nd had to overcome tensions between the "Buddhaheads" — brash young men from Hawaii, where much of the population was Asian or Hawaiian — and the "Katonks" — more reserved young men from the mainland, who were more culturally isolated and lived in places where racism was much more overt. At Camp Shelby in Mississippi, there was bad blood, fist-fights and some real doubts about whether the nisei could work together as a combat unit. (The Katonks got their nickname for the sound of being whacked on the head.)
Years later, Inouye told an interviewer for the 1992 book, "Boyhood to War," a collection of anecdotes about the 442nd by Dorothy Matsuo, that the mood changed when the soldiers visited a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas. The Buddhaheads realized that some Katonks had volunteered even though their friends and families were locked behind barbed wire. "The Hawaiian asked himself that day, ‘Would I have volunteered?'" Inouye said. "I would like to say, ‘Yes.' But not having faced it, I can't say what I would have done."
Go for Broke
Inouye, a sergeant when the 442nd landed in Europe, was promoted to first lieutenant as the nisei moved through Italy, then France, then back to Italy in the waning days of the war. The 442nd won a reputation for courage — their motto was "Go for Broke" — and along with the nisei in the 100th Infantry Battalion would become among the most decorated units in U.S. military history.
In his own descriptions and in the recollections of others, Inouye was a leader who genuinely cared for his men and lost few in battle. He was not a saint. He acknowledged running a lucrative craps game. He said he once used a church tower as an observation post. He said he took a wristwatch — which he gave away — and a gun off a German colonel. He lifted a silver ring off the hand of a dead French woman.
Inouye had been warned not to take risks, that the war was almost over, as he moved his platoon against the Germans dug in along a ridge at Colle Musatello near San Terenzo in northern Italy in April 1945. But Inouye had orders to take the ridge.
According to "Americans: The Story of the 442nd Combat Team," a vivid account written by Army Maj. Orville Shirey in 1946, Inouye crawled up a slope and tossed two hand grenades into a German machine-gun nest. He stood up with his tommy gun and raked a second machine-gun nest before being shot in the stomach. But he kept charging until his right arm was hit by an enemy rifle grenade and shattered.
"And as I drew my arm back, all in a flash of light and dark I saw him, that faceless German, like a strip of a motion picture film running through a projector that's gone berserk. One instant he was standing waist-high in the bunker, and the next he was aiming a rifle grenade at my face from a range of 10 yards," Inouye wrote in his autobiography.
"And even as I cocked my arm to throw, he fired and his rifle grenade smashed into my right elbow and exploded and all but tore my arm off. I looked at it, stunned and disbelieving. It dangled there by a few bloody shreds of tissue, my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore."
Inouye wrote that he pried the grenade out of his right hand and threw it at the German gunman, who was killed by the explosion. He then continued firing his gun until he was shot in the right leg and knocked down the hillside. Badly wounded, he ordered his men to keep attacking and they took the ridge from the enemy.
Within a few days after the battle, the fighting was over in Italy. Less than two weeks later, Germany surrendered.
Inouye was promoted to second lieutenant and, before he was discharged, to captain. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, but received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster to go along with a Bronze Star. President Bill Clinton belatedly recognized Inouye and 21 other Asian-American veterans in 2000 with the Medal of Honor. "Rarely has a nation been so well-served by a people it has so ill-treated," Clinton said at the White House ceremony.
Inouye had multiple operations to treat his wounds and spent nearly two years of grueling rehabilitation on the mainland to learn how to function without his right arm, which had been amputated. He said he was fitted for a prosthetic arm, and learned how to use it, but it never felt comfortable, so he preferred an empty sleeve.
Remarkably, three of the young soldiers who were treated at Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich. — Inouye, Robert Dole of Kansas, and Philip Hart of Michigan — would serve with distinction in the U.S. Senate. Inouye liked to say that it was Dole, who would become the Republican majority leader and the GOP's presidential nominee in 1996, who planted the seed of a career in politics.
When Inouye finally had his Hawaii homecoming after the war, he knew he would never be a surgeon.
After the war, Hawaii was on the brink of social change. Japanese-Americans were a third of the state's population, and the nisei veterans soon realized their political potential. Republicans had dominated state politics since the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, but had grown stodgy as the voice of the Big Five corporations that still mostly ran the Islands. The Democrats were largely controlled by the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union.
Inouye enrolled in pre-law classes at UH under the GI Bill with an eye toward politics, not the courtroom. He met Margaret Shinobu Awamura, a UH speech instructor who had earned a master's in education at Columbia University in New York, and on their second date asked her to marry him.
Although their courtship was typical of young Hawaii couples — he proposed while parked off the beach at Ala Moana — out of Japanese tradition and respect for their parents they allowed family friends to be matchmakers and arrange their marriage.
His wife was the breadwinner while Inouye finished classes at UH. He completed law school at George Washington University a few blocks from the White House, which Inouye chose so he could soak up the political atmosphere of the nation's capital.
When the couple came back home, and the day after Inouye passed the state bar exam, he was appointed deputy city prosecutor. Inouye had already been volunteering for Democrats in Washington and Hawaii and had become a disciple of John Burns, a former Honolulu police captain who had stood up for the rights of Japanese-Americans during the war.
Burns, who would later become the state's most revered governor, was a talisman for many young Democrats. He was an advocate for workers and civil rights and saw the political value of linking the union movement with the struggles of emerging Japanese-Americans. It was Burns who urged Inouye to run for the Territorial House in 1954.
Organized labor was — and still is — the motor within the Democratic Party of Hawaii. Japanese-Americans brought race and class to the surface, along with the passion of the nisei who had fought for their country and were not about to meekly return to the status quo.
Several nisei veterans banded together to form Central Pacific Bank to serve a Japanese immigrant community that had been isolated and stigmatized during the war. Inouye bought into the bank with a minimum share of $300 and became secretary.
During the 1954 campaign, some Republicans portrayed Democrats as tools of the ILWU and even communist sympathizers. Inouye became so furious at one event in Aina Haina that he used his disability as a political weapon. "I held up my empty right sleeve and shook it," he wrote. "I gave this arm to fight fascists," he told the audience. "If my country wants the other one to fight communism, it can have it."
The Democratic takeover of the Legislature in 1954 was a pivotal moment in Hawaii's history, leading to more than a half-century of nearly unbroken party rule. Along with Inouye, the class of new lawmakers included future U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga and future Gov. George Ariyoshi.
With Democrats unaccustomed to power, the first few years after the takeover were often messy, with internal strife and grandiose visions of change. Inouye, who lost a bid for House speaker but was selected majority leader, recalled writing U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, a Texas Democrat, for advice.
Big ideas — equal opportunity, worker rights, access to healthcare, better public schools — also took root during the chaos.
Inouye, who was elected to the Territorial Senate in 1958, gained political experience and name recognition that would position him for federal election after Hawaii became a state in 1959.
Much of Hawaii's ruling class had initially been against statehood, since the wealthy and privileged thrived under federal oversight as a territory. But popular sentiment was in favor of officially joining the union.
Nationally, some in Congress resisted statehood because of Hawaii's racial makeup, particularly the large number of Japanese-Americans. Burns, by then a territorial delegate to Congress, had to help mollify Southern Democrats who worried the new Hawaii lawmakers would challenge racial segregation on the mainland.
Inouye had wanted to run for U.S. Senate in the special election after statehood in 1959 but was persuaded by party elders to campaign instead for the U.S. House. Inouye had promised young attorney Patsy Mink, who had already declared for the House, that he would not run against her in the primary, so his decision to switch just before the filing deadline was awkward. Inouye beat Mink in the primary and then cruised in the general election, becoming the first Japanese-American in the House.
Rayburn, who was notoriously gruff but had a soft spot for young men with promise, had trouble pronouncing Inouye's name at first. The speaker told the new representative he was probably among the best known on Capitol Hill. "Why? Well, just think about it son," Inouye recalled Rayburn saying. "How many one-arm Japanese do you think we have in the Congress of the United States?"
In a House speech marking the third anniversary of statehood, U.S. Rep. Leo O'Brien, a New York Democrat, recalled the day Inouye was asked to raise his right hand and take the oath of office. "There was no right hand, Mr. Speaker," O'Brien said. "It had been lost in combat by that young American soldier in World War II. Who can deny that, at that moment, a ton of prejudice slipped quietly to the floor of the House of Representatives?"
Inouye's early display of party loyalty — of waiting his turn — paid off in 1962, when Democrats rallied behind him to replace the aging Oren Long, who was retiring from the U.S. Senate. His campaign against Benjamin Dillingham, a Republican from one of the state's prominent families, showed how much Hawaii had changed politically since the war. Inouye won with a stunning 69 percent of the vote.
At 38, he was a United States senator. He would never come close to losing an election.
Prophetically, given Inouye's eventual mastery of Senate rules, his first speech in the Senate was to save the filibuster. The same Southern Democrats who had been suspicious of statehood had used the filibuster — a unique procedural tool — to stall new civil-rights laws. Senators can use filibusters to take control of the floor and literally talk bills to death by refusing to yield until there is a two-thirds' vote. But some liberals wanted to change the rules to allow filibusters to be broken by a majority vote.
Inouye was thinking of Hawaii, not civil rights or Southern Democrats, when he spoke in favor of a strong filibuster. The tool — which can only be overcome by the votes of 60 of the chamber's 100 senators — can be an instrument of equality, giving senators from Hawaii the same power to stop legislation as senators from bigger states like New York or California.
"I represent a small state," Inouye explained to a local reporter. "There may come a time when a proposal before the Senate seriously threatens our state. When and if that time comes, I would not want to see the small voice of Hawaii choked off by parliamentary maneuvers."
Inouye thought of Rayburn as a mentor in the House and aligned himself with U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson, another powerful Texas Democrat and Rayburn protege, even before he arrived in the Senate.
Inouye had campaigned for Johnson in his unsuccessful run against U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, where he learned a crude lesson about identity politics. Inouye was dispatched to a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People rally in Los Angeles to speak for Johnson. He was prepared to explain why a young Japanese-American was for a son of the segregated South, but the black leaders — unimpressed — kept him waiting backstage for over four hours. Finally, they told Inouye they wanted Johnson or nobody.
"It was a bitter experience and I tasted the bitterness in my mouth all the way out of that place," he wrote.
When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and Johnson — the vice president — became president, Inouye had a closer tie with the White House.
Inouye was in harmony with Johnson's Great Society social programs, which were aimed at fighting poverty and ending racial injustice. He also agreed with the president on the need for the Vietnam War. As a young senator from a faraway state, Inouye's connection to the White House and the establishment Democrats who ran the Senate, especially U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, would help him advance in a chamber where personal relationships mean everything.
In the late 1960s, as Vietnam was beginning to tear the country along generational lines, the Democratic Party also needed someone like Inouye. His youth, his racial background and his military heroism made him a compelling figure. The senator's name was even floated by Mansfield as a potential vice president to Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota as the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago approached.
Inouye was given the convention's keynote address, a prime spot usually reserved for rising stars who personify the party's message. Although the convention will be remembered historically for the violent street clashes between anti-war protesters and Chicago police, Inouye's appearance on the national stage was a milestone for Hawaii.
Local sponsors paid $7,500 so KGMB could televise the speech via satellite, the first time people in the islands were able to view a convention speech live. Bob Krauss, The Honolulu Advertiser's popular columnist, watched with Inouye's parents in their Coyne Street home. "Where else can a boy like Dan become like that?" Inouye's mother, Kame, said proudly. "This is America."
Inouye described the Vietnam War as immoral. But he defended Johnson's plan for peace through political negotiation with the Viet Cong rather than escalated military force or immediate withdrawal. He recognized the racial and social upheaval in the inner cities and the anger of the anti-war movement but warned against the temptation to cut down establishment institutions. "This is my country," he said. "Many of us have fought hard to say that. Many are struggling today from Harlem to Da Nang that they may say it with conviction."
In the months and years that followed, as Democrats lost the White House to President Richard Nixon and public support for the war collapsed, Inouye's views on Vietnam shifted. While the senator would always be a fierce ally of the military, after Vietnam, he was much more skeptical about the justification used for war.
"This was a war with racial overtones," he told an interviewer from consumer advocate Ralph Nader's Congress Project. "Would My Lai have happened in Paris?"
On the 40th anniversary of his speech in Chicago, in an interview with The Advertiser, Inouye described how Johnson had led him to believe at the convention that he would be offered the vice presidential slot. Inouye said he told Humphrey, Johnson's vice president, that he was not interested.
The senator's account was later corroborated when telephone recordings of Johnson's last months in office were released publicly.
Johnson, according to a CBS News transcript, told Humphrey that Inouye could help answer any doubts on Vietnam. "He answers Vietnam with that empty sleeve. He answers your problems with Nixon with that empty sleeve. He has that brown face," Johnson said.
"I guess maybe, it's just taking me a little too far, too fast," Humphrey responded. "Old, conservative Humphrey."
Inouye had a reputation in the Senate for integrity and intelligence and he was picked by Mansfield, over his initial objection, as one of seven senators to serve on a select committee to investigate the Watergate scandal that engulfed the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. President Nixon and his aides were accused of a pattern of corruption that became public after the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex.
The Watergate hearings were nationally televised and made the senators, including the distinctive Inouye, household names. Inouye would appear on national and international news and talk shows and he was rated by the public as among the most favorable for his fair yet sometimes blunt interrogation.
At one hearing, Inouye, unaware a microphone was still on, was overheard saying, "What a liar," after the testimony of White House domestic affairs aide John Ehrlichman. The senator at first denied the remark, then said he was speaking to himself. But the misstep was overshadowed a week later when John Wilson, the attorney for White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, was asked by reporters how he felt about the probing questions of U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker, a Connecticut Republican.
"Oh, I don't mind Senator Weicker," Wilson said. "What I mind is that little Jap."
Inouye did not appear to capitalize on his new popularity or use Watergate for partisan advantage after Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment. He told Big Island Democrats in one speech that, "Watergate is not a partisan tragedy. It is a national tragedy."
Inouye's fame from Watergate led to scrutiny of his own campaign finances. Henry Giugni, a former Honolulu police officer and liquor inspector who had been a confidant of Inouye's since the Territorial Legislature, failed to report a $5,650 contribution to the senator from shipping magnate and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Giugni also admitted accepting an illegal $5,000 contribution to Inouye from an oil industry lobbyist.
Inouye stuck by his friend — who later became the Senate's sergeant-at-arms and an influential lobbyist — and his reputation did not suffer from the mistakes.
Senate leaders again turned to Inouye when, after embarrassing disclosures that the CIA and the FBI had spied on Americans, they created a select committee on intelligence to oversee government surveillance. The senator said the fear of government eavesdropping was so pervasive that he had seen other senators use pay telephones in case their office phones were bugged.
In one speech on government spying to the American Civil Liberties Union, Inouye warned of a danger to civil liberties that he would repeat more than three decades later when President George W. Bush increased domestic surveillance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Perhaps the most disturbing of all aspects of government data collection is the surreptitious surveillance and intelligence operations to collect information on innocent citizens whose political views and activities are opposed to those of the administration," he said.
Inouye's national prominence seemed to peak in the 1970s and 1980s. His name had surfaced as a possible vice presidential contender, but he would always dismiss any aspirations beyond the Senate, where he had friends and power.
He was becoming one of the Senate's "old bulls," conscious of its history and traditions, protective of its intricate procedures and the value placed on seniority.
It was Inouye who took the uncomfortable but necessary job as advocate for U.S. Sen. Harrison Williams, a New Jersey Democrat, when the Senate sought to expel him after his bribery convictions in the Abscam scandal. Williams had been caught on videotape trading his influence for an interest in a titanium mine with an undercover FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik.
Inouye, who essentially served as Williams' defense attorney on the Senate floor, said the Senate had only previously expelled senators for treason. Williams resigned in 1982 to avoid expulsion.
The entry on Inouye in the 1984 "Politics in America," a snapshot of the nation's political landscape published every two years by Congressional Quarterly, said the senator's "role in developing legislation has not matched either his seniority or his popularity."
But Senate leaders again came to Inouye with a politically sensitive assignment. He was asked to lead a select committee to investigate the Iran-Contra affair, a scheme by the Reagan administration to trade arms for American hostages in Iran and use some of the proceeds from arms sales to help finance a Contra rebellion against the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Like Watergate, the committee's hearings were televised nationally and put Inouye in the spotlight. The committee found that Iran-Contra was "characterized by pervasive dishonesty and inordinate secrecy." The senator conducted the probe with grace and uncovered some damaging revelations, but the trail never quite reached President Ronald Reagan and the public's verdict was much more indifferent than it was after Watergate.
Lt. Col. Oliver North, the telegenic Marine at the center of the scandal, wore his uniform and medals to the hearings and was a sympathetic figure to many Americans. As a sly counterpunch — and perhaps to remind viewers that he, too, was a patriot — Inouye wore his Distinguished Service Cross lapel pin.
Mike Royko, the legendary Chicago newspaper columnist, wrote that Inouye came across as an "inscrutable Buddha." But the senator scored when he publicly scolded North, who had admitted lying to Congress, for suggesting that lawmakers often leaked sensitive information. "I can also understand why North looked more subdued at that point than he has during the entire hearing," Royko wrote. "He knew he was being chewed out by a genuine hero."
Inouye's higher profile from Iran-Contra would, like after Watergate, come with some backlash. The senator was criticized for inserting $8 million into a foreign operations bill to build parochial schools in France for North African Jews. Inouye had become among Israel's most important allies in the Senate and had spoken against the historic injustices to Jews, so his support for the schools was not out of character. But it turned out he had received a $1,000 campaign contribution from a friend, New York real-estate developer Zev Wolfson, who was on the board of the charitable group that would oversee the federal money going to France.
Inouye at first defended the appropriation as proper but later apologized and asked that the money be withdrawn.
The timing of his uneven reviews on Iran-Contra and the bad press on the Jewish schools was not ideal. Inouye, at 64, was interested in replacing U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia as majority leader after the 1988 elections. Senate Democrats were looking for a national spokesman — a fresher face who could communicate effectively on television — and while Inouye had a cadre behind him, they would choose U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine. Mitchell, who led the party's Senate campaign committee when Democrats took back the Senate in 1986 and had blossomed during the Iran-Contra hearings, won 27 of the 55 Democratic votes. Inouye and U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana each had 14.
The leadership defeat was a disappointment to Inouye, but not nearly as personally painful as an episode that would soil his 1992 re-election campaign. His Republican opponent, state Sen. Rick Reed of Maui, obtained a tape recording of Inouye's longtime hairstylist, Lenore Kwock, claiming Inouye had pressured her into sex in 1975 and later sexually harassed her.
Reed was criticized — by Kwock and the leaders of his own party — for going public with the steamy allegations in campaign advertisements. Inouye denied the claims and won re-election with 54 percent of the vote, the lowest victory margin of his career. But Inouye was stung when nine other women told a state lawmaker after the election that they were also sexually harassed by the senator.
Womens' rights groups asked for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, while Inouye called the anonymous new charges "unmitigated lies." Kwock, who said she had forgiven Inouye, refused to cooperate with Senate investigators. The senator's other accusers never came forward publicly, so the inquiry was dropped.
Inouye insisted the accusations had no impact on his effectiveness in the Senate, which was torn at the time by sexual harassment allegations against U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, an Oregon Republican who would eventually resign in disgrace.
"But it has had a major impact on my life, which has become a living hell," Inouye told a local reporter.
Success for Hawaii
Historians might debate whether Inouye made the most of his power nationally, but there is no dispute about his influence on Hawaii.
From his first days in the House after statehood to his last as one of the Senate's senior members, Inouye fought to make sure the Islands were not shortchanged when it came to federal spending. Inouye was a voice for sugar, pineapple and shipping, for highways, airports and harbors, for the East-West Center, for UH and, most significantly, for the military. The senator worked to help make Hawaii the most important strategic location for the military in the Pacific, and the military became, along with tourism, the foundation of the state's economy.
From a perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and through collaboration with his good friend, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, Inouye was able to deliver federal money no matter which political party controlled Congress or the White House. The pair also held top posts on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has control over maritime, aviation and other federal policy issues critical to the Islands.
Inouye, who was reserved and deliberative, and Stevens, who was aggressive and abrasive, considered each other brothers-in-arms for their underdog states.
Some of Inouye's attempts to help Hawaii backfired. Inouye and U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, supported "Project America," which involved federal loan guarantees for two new cruise ships that were to be constructed at a Mississippi shipyard for use in Hawaii. The effort failed after American Classic Voyages, the crusie ship company, went bankrupt after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, costing taxpayers millions.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who often clashed with Inouye on federal spending, called the "Project America" loans "one of the most incredible boondoggles in recent history."
Citizens Against Government Waste typically ranked Inouye and Stevens as among the worst for what it called "pork," federal spending that is earmarked by lawmakers for local projects or that does not go through the formal presidential budget request or congressional authorization process.
Yet both men saw the criticism as a compliment, proof they were just as skilled as any of their colleagues from more established states, if not more so, in the dealmaking of the Senate.
"I'm not embarrassed or ashamed by what they call earmarks," Inouye told a reporter.
Inouye stood by Stevens, and even raised money and campaigned for his re-election, after Stevens was indicted in 2008 by a federal grand jury for not disclosing gifts from Alaska oil company executives. Stevens lost his re-election campaign, but a federal judge later set aside his conviction, citing prosecutorial misconduct.
When Inouye realized his coveted goal of becoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2009, the moment was bittersweet because Stevens was no longer by his side.
Inouye was known mostly for bringing home federal money, but he also used his influence to change federal policy to benefit Hawaii, promote civil rights and preserve native cultures.
Inouye helped get an exemption to federal health and pension law so Hawaii could have the landmark Prepaid Health Care Act of 1974, which requires companies to provide health insurance to employees who work more than 20 hours a week. The senator won an exemption from federal environmental law that allowed construction to go forward on H-3, the interstate that linked Honolulu and Windward Oahu. He worked on an effort to require the Navy to clean up its firing range and return the island of Kahoolawe to the state so it could be restored as a Hawaiian cultural site. The senator urged the Navy to transfer the historic battleship USS Missouri for a memorial at Pearl Harbor. He obtained an exemption to federal maritime law that allowed Norwegian Cruise Line to operate its foreign-built cruise ships under U.S. flags in Hawaii, which revived cruises between the islands.
Inouye helped set in motion the process that eventually led President Reagan in 1988 to apologize and provide $20,000 each to the survivors of Japanese internment during World War II, an injustice that gnawed at him since he was a young GI.
The senator secured $20 million for a center on preserving democracy at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
Appalled at the federal government's treatment of American Indians after learning their history as a leader on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Inouye became a passionate advocate for Indian self-determination and was among the main forces behind the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington.
Inouye slipped language into a defense spending bill that fulfilled a government promise and provided $15,000 — $9,000 for noncitizens — to Filipinos who fought on behalf of the United States during World War II.
Working with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, Inouye helped win historic passage of a resolution signed by President Clinton in 1993 formally apologizing for the U.S. government's role in the 1893 overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii. In a Senate floor speech, Inouye said the resolution was not a step toward Hawaiian independence, but rather a reconciliation between the federal government and a people who had been wronged. "It was authored by my friend from Hawaii because he loves America," Inouye said of Akaka, who is of Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry. "It is because of our love for this nation that this resolution was presented, to make it possible for all of us, even after 100 years, to cleanse one of our pages, to make it a bit brighter."
The senator also supported Akaka's Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill, which would create a process for Hawaiians to form their own sovereign government similar to American Indians and Native Alaskans.
Some Hawaiians have doubted Inouye's commitment to sovereignty, while others believed that, given his personal history, he was uncomfortable with the anti-American tone prevalent in some of the movement's extremes. Some Hawaiians also resent the senator's role in the military expansion of the islands, including military training on land Hawaiians consider sacred.
But Inouye empathized with the Hawaiian struggle and helped steer millions in federal money annually to Hawaiian education, health and cultural programs. "I've tried my best, although it's impossible, to put myself in their shoes," Inouye told Heather Giugni for her 2003 biographical film on the senator. "And when I do that, I somehow get the feeling that if I were in their position, I may be screaming also."
Inouye, by his own preference, rarely spoke on the Senate floor in his later years and often shunned the national news media. Some of his friends would say it was Japanese and Hawaii style to stay humble and avoid self-promotion, to get things done quietly. But some may forget that Inouye co-wrote his autobiography at 43 and seemed to enjoy the national media attention when he was younger.
As an elder statesman, Inouye became more of an icon, a symbol Democrats would often turn to when their valor or patriotism were challenged. After President Bush questioned the Democrats' commitment to national security in the months before the war in Iraq, some Democrats said the president owed senators like Inouye an apology.
Inouye, whose outlook on war had changed sharply after Vietnam, opposed the Persian Gulf War with Iraq in 1991 and voted against giving Bush the authority to use force against Iraq before the second invasion in 2003.
"I can assure you this is not a time for Democrats and Republicans to say I have more medals than you, and I have lost more limbs than you, and we have shed more blood than you," Inouye said in a Senate speech in September 2002. "This is not the time for that. This is a time in which we should be working together, debating this issue. As the senator from West Virginia said, it is American to question the president. It is American to debate the issues."
Inouye also became an icon back in the islands. The party he had helped create to smash the Republican status quo in 1954 had itself become complacent and entrenched. The senator, his aides, and his allies in business and labor were often the last word on party strategy, candidate selection and internal disputes. But they could not always hold competing factions together.
Linda Lingle's victory in 2002, the first time a Republican had taken Washington Place in four decades, and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case's Democratic primary challenge to Akaka in 2006, were signs that the state's political culture had changed from under Inouye.
When Hawaii-born U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Inouye said he was too inexperienced and faithfully stuck with U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York through the primaries. Obama drew record numbers of Democrats to the party's usually overlooked caucuses in the Islands and easily beat Clinton despite Inouye's preference.
For a younger generation, or for recent mainland transplants, Inouye was often viewed more as a remote figure of official Washington than an island boy with an easy smile.
But anyone who had lost personal touch with the senator was able to see his human side after his loyal friend Giugni died in November 2005 and his beloved wife, Maggie, passed away at 81 in March 2006.
"I needed someone to maybe bounce off ideas, or someone who felt confident enough to be critical when it was justified, and he was the one," Inouye said of Giugni. "I told him, that's the nature of our relationship and our friendship. If you can't do that, I don't want you around me, because I can have dozens of people who can brown-nose you, if you know what I mean. They're all over the place."
The Inouyes, with their son, Ken, had always been protective of their family life and their home in Bethesda, Md. But the senator talked frankly about the loss of his wife. "She was my inspiration, and all that I have accomplished could not have been done without her at my side," he said. "We were a team."
In May 2008, Inouye married Irene Hirano, the former president and chief executive of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, whom he had known for more than two decades. "The most important reaction is the one from my son," the senator told a local reporter. "And he said, ‘Dad, you outdid yourself.'"
Ken and his wife, Jessica, made Inouye a grandfather when they had a daughter, Maggie.
Inouye avoided public talk about his legacy and liked to say that no one is indispensable. Other senators of his stature have monuments to their success — the airport in Anchorage is named for Stevens; a highway, federal building, and a statue at the state Capitol in Charleston are among the many honors for Byrd — but Inouye resisted.
As he watched contemporaries pass, he would sometimes reflect on his own mortality. After U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who served with Inouye for 47 years, died in August 2009, Inouye said: "None of us walk on water. The day will come for all of us. I hope I can do it as nobly as he has."
Akaka, speaking about his colleague's spirit, once told local Democrats the story about a fading black-and-white photograph of a young Inouye with four other nisei soldiers of the 442nd before they were sent off to the front in Italy.
One of the other veterans in the photo, who had not seen Inouye since the war, had brought the picture to a meeting with Inouye in Washington.
Inouye looked at the photo and realized that the only soldier who was not smiling was the only one who was dead.
"And I'm still smiling," the senator told his friend as he leaned back in his chair. "And intend to do so for quite awhile."