Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 21, 2012
WASHINGTON » A day of tribute Thursday in the U.S Capitol's resplendent rotunda for Sen. Daniel K. Inouye drew not only reverent lawmakers and the Washington elite, but Hawaii residents who made the trip to say aloha to the man who served Hawaii since statehood.
The thousands of miles from Honolulu Airport didn't matter for Oahu resident Vaughn Vasconcellos, who booked last-minute plane tickets from Hawaii to pay his respects to Inouye, who rested in state Thursday where Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan once lay in repose.
Even though Inouye will be returned to Hawaii for a funeral ceremony and burial at Punchbowl cemetery, Vasconcellos said he wanted to come see where Inouye had made himself a patriot and hero.
"Sen. Daniel K. Inouye is the example of a soldier, statesman and public servant," said Vasconcellos, who runs the nonprofit Alaka‘ina Foundation for young people. "We won't ever see another Dan Inouye. Aloha kakou, senator."
This morning in Washington, Inouye will be honored at a funeral in the National Cathedral, a Washington landmark. He will then return to Hawaii for burial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Earlier Thursday, Inouye, the second-longest-serving senator in U.S. history, was remembered as a man who gallantly defended his country on the battlefield and gracefully sought to better it during the 50-plus years he represented his beloved state of Hawaii.
Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell.
"Sen. Daniel Inouye was a noble soul — one of the finest men I've ever met," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in opening remarks in the rotunda. "It is with a heavy heart that we bid aloha."
Throughout the day, under the motionless guard of four Capitol police officers, spaced like the points of a compass around Inouye's casket, the public was allowed to pay respects.
Some were tourists who had never been to Hawaii or Washington before, but vaguely knew of the name Inouye.
"I knew he was a war hero," said Angela Jackson, who brought her twins to see Washington and decided to visit the rotunda. "I wanted my girls to see this. This is very special. There are not many like him anymore."
It was easy to spot some of the Hawaii residents in the slowly moving circle of those who came to say aloha.
Marilyn Diego-Bruce, who works on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which Inouye had led for so long, wore a traditional Hawaiian print as she slowly entered the rotunda, paused and then silently said her goodbye.
"I'm feeling very sad," she said in a whisper afterward, "but I'm blessed for having worked with the man."
IN AN HONOR usually reserved for presidents, Inouye'sflag-draped mahogany casket arrivedat the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning.Under a chilly, slate gray sky, the Medal of Honor recipient was brought into the Capitol by a powerfully stoic military honor guard in full formal dress, slowly pacing in perfect cadence.
The rotunda, where even whispers echo, was surreally quiet as the 88-year-old senator's family and many of his Capitol Hill colleagues observed the solemn arrival of the casket, heads bowed.
It was placed on a black-draped catafalque, a funerary platform. The military guard then stepped back in unison and slowly saluted one of World War II's greatest heroes.
During a memorial service at the rotunda Thursday, Inouye was eulogized as one of America's greatest lawmakers, patriots and soldiers.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Inouye "one of freedom's most gallant champions."
Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime friend, said, "He was in every way the quintessential American."
Senate Chaplain Barry Black praised Inouye for the "laudable footprint he left in the sands of time."
All the while Inouye's widow, Irene Hirano Inouye, sat quietly, dressed in black and simple pearls, flanked by Inouye's son, Ken, and his family.
After three wreaths were placed around Inouye's casket, Irene Inouye was escorted from her seat by an Army officer for a moment of contemplative silence beside her husband.
As they departed, the memorial service guests walked around Inouye's casket to pay respects, then quietly strode out.
The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and good will Inouye generated over the years. Only 31 people have lain in the Capitol rotunda; the last was former President Gerald R. Ford nearly six years ago. The last senator so honored was Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, also a vice president, in 1978.
"Daniel Inouye was an institution, and he deserved to spend at least another day in this beautiful building where he dedicated his life," Reid said.
Boehner noted that Inouye was Hawaii's first congressman. In his early days in Washington, Inouye's modesty would never have allowed him to think he would walk the halls of the Capitol for the next five decades.
"He couldn't have fathomed all the good that he would do here, helping to build a new state, gaining rights benefits for veterans, supporting agriculture, speaking out against injustice, becoming one of the most revered senators in our history," Boehner said.
Inouye died Monday from respiratory complications. He was known as the soft-spoken but powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Before Inouye made his mark in politics, he did so as a war hero who lost his right arm while leading his platoon into battle on a ridge in Italy. He eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.
Biden recalled how Inouye supported his own first run for the Senate and was one of the first to comfort him and try to raise his spirits when Biden's wife and baby daughter died in an automobile accident shortly after his election. Biden recalled being moved that a man who had lost his right arm so eagerly embraced life and sought to make others feel better.
"I've never met a man or woman with as much physical and mental courage as Daniel Inouye," Biden said.
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.
Inouye's body will be escorted today to the Washington National Cathedral and will be returned to Hawaii on Saturday.
His body will lie in state at the state Capitol on Saturday, from 5 p.m. to midnight, and a final public memorial ceremony at Punchbowl is scheduled for Sunday morning.