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Inouye receives final farewell, military honors at Punchbowl

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 2:50 p.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012

Four days of public memorials and mourning in Washington D.C. and Hawaii came to a close today as family, friends, colleagues and admirers remembered Daniel K. Inouye — Medal of Honor recipient and longtime U.S. senator — at a simple and somber military service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle arrived just before 10 a.m. for the ceremony that included remembrances by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Adm. Samual J. Locklear III, and Inouye's Senate partner for 22 years, retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka. The president, who delived a eulogy at the National Cathedral in Washington on Friday, did not speak at today's service.

 "He was the shining star of the greatest generation," Akaka said.

The ceremony opened at about 10:13 a.m. with a 19-gun cannon salute as Inouye's hearse arrived. The 25th Infantry Division played the "National Anthem" and Amy Hanaialii sang "Hawaii Pono'i" and the "Queen's Prayer" a cappella.

Reid told an emotional story about how on Thursday he escorted former U.S. senator from Kansas Bob Dole, Inouye's longtime friend and a fellow wounded World War II hero, to pay their respects to Inouye at the Capitol Rotunda.

Reid recounted how Dole, who usually uses a wheelchair, insisted on walking up to the casket. "'Danny's not going to see me in a wheelchair,'" Reid quoted Dole as saying. Dole, who lost the use of his right arm in combat, struggled to the casket, Reid said, but "he got up there and, soldier to soldier, he saluted him with his left hand."

Reid said Inouye "was in every way a giant."

Akaka gave a heartfelt remembrance of his longtime friend and colleague. He told how Inouye's granddaughter, Maggie, "lit up his life."

"Someday she will know how much he meant to us," Akaka said.

He ended his remarks with, "My brother, aloha 'oe, a hui hou."

Retired U.S. Army Brigidier Gen. James T. Hirai and Inouye's chief of staff Jennifer Sabas also spoke, addressing a crowd of about 1,000.

Sabas said Inouye was giving instructions to his staff from his hospital bed until "the very end."

His last act, she said, was to gather the staff of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center together and thank them for their efforts to save him.

Then, Sabas said, "he penned 'aloha' and went on to a better place."

Today's simple service, in keeping with the senator's wishes, included "Taps," played by Inouye's colleague, U.S. Sen. Jon. Tester, D-Mont., and the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii playing one of his favorite songs, "Danny Boy."

The ceremony ended with military honors, a rifle salute, and a missing-man jet flyover formation. Lt. Gen. Francis Wier­cin­ski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, then presented the folded U.S. flag that had been draped over Inouye's casket to his widow, Irene Hirano Inouye. 

The family plans a private burial later, according to Punchbowl officials.

The ceremony was opened to the public, but Punchbowl officials had warned that access would be limited because of heightened security concerns due to the attendance of Obama and other dignitaries, including at least 20 members of Congress.

Many of those members of the public who were allowed to attend arrived at the Alapai Transit Center before 6 a.m. to go through airport-like screening and to board buses to Punchbowl. 

Some said that while they had never met Inouye, they were moved by his service or inspired by his leadership.

"He was such a good guy," said Yvette Corpuz, 44, of Ewa Beach. "He's so well-respected."

Youngmee Park, of Makiki, got to the transit center at 4 a.m. She called the funeral services moving, and a "chance to say goodbye."

Inouye, who served as senator from Hawaii for five decades, died Monday in Washington from a respiratory illness.

His death inspired an awesome display of recognition for the state of Hawaii's most distinguished and accomplished political leader. His body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, an honor reserved for presidents and the most distinguished Americans. On Friday, Obama, Biden, Reid and others eulogized Inouye at a solemn memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Inouye returned to Hawaii Saturday where thousands of members of the public paid respects as he lay in state at the State Capitol last night.

Over the past week, the senator has been remembered for his incredible journey from war hero to second-longest serving senator in U.S. history.

Inouye was born in Hono­lulu on Sept. 7, 1924 and graduated from McKinley High School in 1942. In 1945, he lost an arm in fierce combat in Italy as a member of the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Inouye and 21 other Asian-American veterans were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery in combat, decades later in a ceremony at the White House with then-President Bill Clinton.

Inouye returned to Hawaii after the war and embarked on what would become a long political career. He became a U.S. congressman in 1959 when Hawaii became a state, and began his half-century-long Senate career in 1962. At the time of his death, he was Senate president pro tempore, third in line of succession to the president of the United States.

Inouye is survived by wife Irene, son Ken, daughter-in-law Jessica, granddaughter Maggie and stepdaughter Jennifer Hirano. His first wife, Margaret Awa­mura, died in 2006, and is buried at Punchbowl.

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