Special to the Star-Advertiser
and Kevin Freking
POSTED: 4:17 a.m. HST, Dec 21, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 6:19 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2012
WASHINGTON >> In a rare show of national unity and history, two American presidents led mourners gathered today at Washington’s majestic National Cathedral to honor the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died Monday after one of America’s most storied public lives.
“Freedom and dignity were not abstractions – they were something he fought for,” President Barack Obama said, standing in a canyon of soaring granite.
Before him, former President Bill Clinton called Inouye ‘’one of the most remarkable Americans I have ever known.”
Inouye, 88, the second-longest serving senator in American history, was honored at the majestic National Cathedral amid bell chimes and solemn choirs carrying affront high-held flickering white candles.
Obama said Inouye was the one who "hinted to me what might be possible in my own life."
Inouye worked until mere minutes before his death, shaking hands with his friends and caressing the hands of his family in those final moments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the service. 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. Vice President Joe Biden said he remembered thinking of Inouye: "I wish I could be more like that man. He's a better man than I am."
Clinton described Inouye as "one of the most remarkable Americans I have ever known."
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 a 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 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 boy and spending the nights watching the Watergate hearings on TV with his mother. The president said that as the son of 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.
He "embodied the very best of aloha," Obama said.
Hawaiian music played during the service, reflecting Inouye's love for his home state. Inouye was Hawaii's first congressman. His 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 Biden and Clinton.
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."
As a legislator, his 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.
It is the second day of memorials for Inouye. On Thursday, he became just the 31st person to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell.
The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and good will he generated over the years. Only 31 have lain in the Capitol rotunda; the last 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 the first Japanese-American elected to both the House and Senate and was serving his ninth term in the Senate when he died. As a legislator, his specialty was steering federal money to his home state to develop the kinds of roads, schools and housing other Americans had on the mainland.
His death along with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka have taken a century of political clout from Hawaii’s small four-member delegation Washington.
Inouye's body will be returned to Hawaii on Saturday where he will lie in state at the Capitol from 5 p.m. to midnight. On Sunday, a final public memorial ceremony will be held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller contributed to this report.