The president and other top leaders honor their colleague and inspiration
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 06:42 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2012
WASHINGTON » The nation's most powerful leaders invoked the spirit of aloha as they bade farewell to Hawaii's Daniel K. Inouye, the second-longest-serving senator in U.S. history and a giant even among the "Greatest Generation" of World War II.
President Barack Obama spoke to mourners Friday at the majestic National Cathedral about his Hawaii connection to the senator.
"As someone who has been privileged to live in Hawaii, I know that he embodied the very best of that spirit, the very best of aloha," the Honolulu-born president said in an eight-minute eulogy.
Obama noted that Inouye's last word was "aloha" and said, "It was a final expression most of all of his love for the family and friends that he cared so much about, for the men and women he was honored to serve with, for the country that held such a special place in his heart."
"They blew his arm off in World War II, but they never, never laid a finger on his heart or his mind."
--Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the memorial service for U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye on Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington
Before Obama's remarks, former President Bill Clinton called Inouye "one of the most remarkable Americans I have ever known."
Inouye, 88, died Monday of a respiratory illness, ending a half-century career as a senator from Hawaii. He was honored at the National Cathedral amid bell chimes and solemn choirs carrying flickering white candles.
The ceremony was Washington's farewell to Inouye, whose body returns to Hawaii today for public memorial ceremonies this weekend.
Hawaiian music played during the cathedral service, reflecting
Inouye's love for his home state. He was Hawaii's first congressman.
Inouye's casket was carried into the cathedral by eight military pallbearers. Obama appeared to wipe tears from his eyes as he sat in the front row next to Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the service that Inouye worked until mere minutes before his death, shaking hands with his friends and caressing the hands of his family in those final moments. Reid said the senator thanked his security detail and the doctors and nurses, and wrote notes detailing his last wishes.
Other political leaders hailed Inouye for his career, spirit and selflessness.
The tributes from the nation's political leaders were deeply personal. Biden said he remembered thinking of Inouye, "I wish I could be more like that man. He's a better man than I am."
Inouye was the first Japanese-American elected to both houses of Congress and the second-longest-serving senator in U.S. history. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, for bravery during World War II, including a heroic effort that cost him his right arm.
"They blew his arm off in World War II, but they never, never laid a finger on his heart or his mind," Clinton said.
Inouye later became one of the nation's most influential politicians, playing key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals.
Obama told a story of taking a summer trip across America as an 11-year-old and spending the nights watching the Watergate hearings on TV with his mother. The president said that as the son of a white mother and a black father, he found it captivating to watch Inouye, his home state's U.S. senator.
"To see this man, this senator, this powerful, accomplished person who was not out of central casting … and the way he commanded the respect of an entire nation, it hinted to me what might be possible in my own life," Obama said.
One speaker after another described Inouye as a political giant with refreshing humility.
Obama said that Inouye ultimately decided he had done "OK" in representing his state and his nation the best he could.
"Danny, you were more than OK," Obama said. "You were extraordinary."
It was the second day of memorials for Inouye. On Thursday he became just the 32nd person to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. Colleagues and aides lined the area five deep to say farewell.
The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and good will he generated over the years. The last person to be honored in the Capitol rotunda was former President Gerald R. Ford nearly six years ago.
After Inouye became Hawaii's first congressman following statehood in 1959, he won election to the Senate in 1962. He was serving his ninth term in the Senate when he died.
As a legislator, Inouye's specialty was steering federal money back home to help build the kinds of roads, schools and housing that Americans on the mainland took for granted.
His death, along with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, has taken a century of political clout from Hawaii's small four-member delegation in Washington.
Today, Inouye will lie in state at the Hawaii state Capitol from 5 p.m. to midnight. On Sunday a final public memorial will be held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Obama, who returned today to Hawaii with his family for Christmas, ended his remarks Friday by saying, "And so we remember a man who inspired all of us with his courage and moved us with his compassion, that inspired us with his integrity and who taught so many of us — including a young kid growing up in Hawaii — that America has a place for everyone.
"May God bless Daniel Inouye. And may God grant us more souls like his."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.