& Associated Press
POSTED: 06:03 a.m. HST, Nov 20, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 01:10 a.m. HST, Nov 21, 2013
President Barrack Obama bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye at a ceremony today in the East Room of the White House.
Inouye has already received the military's highest honor for valor in combat, the Medal of Honor, for his bravery in World War II while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Inouye's widow Irene Hirano accepted the award for the senator, who died last year at the age of 88.
"He taught all of us that no matter what you look like or where you come from, this country has a place for everybody who's willing to serve and work hard," President Obama said in presenting the award.
"After being classified as an "enemy alien," Danny joined a Japanese American unit that became one of the most decorated in World War II. And as the second-longest serving senator in American history, he showed a generation of young people -- including one kid with a funny name growing up in Hawaii who noticed that there was somebody during some of those hearings in Washington that didn't look like everybody else, which meant maybe I had a chance to do something important, too," Obama said.
Inouye was a World War II hero who became the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union.
Obama also honored former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and other leaders in sports, science and public service. Obama said the recipients remind Americans of their own potential.
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who played for the Chicago Cubs, is also being honored.
Obama said the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, showed America's daughters, including his own, that they can set their sights high.
The ceremony opens a day of tributes to Kennedy ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination Friday. Kennedy established the modern version of the medal but died before the first presentation.
Wednesday night, Obama will speak at a dinner at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History honoring medal recipients. Among those expected to attend were baseball's Hank Aaron, singer Aretha Franklin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, activist Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.