Hawaii's senior senator is saluted at Punchbowl for a life filled with humility, courage and sacrifice
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 24, 2012
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was remembered Sunday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, a soldier's goodbye with military honors for a humble man who taught so many the meaning of sacrifice.
Under a bright blue Hawaii sky, Inouye, who had earned the Medal of Honor for his valor in World War II, received a 19-gun cannon salute and a flyover by F-22 Raptor fighter jets in missing-man formation. President Barack Obama, the Hawaii-born commander in chief, sat in the front row of the ceremony with his wife, Michelle.
Inouye's flag-draped casket was placed under a tent at the base of the white steps leading up toward Lady Columbia, the statue that represents grieving mothers of soldiers who are buried in the green fields of the cemetery below.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific forces, read "In Flanders Fields," a poem written by a Canadian lieutenant colonel on the battlefield in Europe in World War I. The admiral said Inouye would now rest in his own Flanders Fields and rejoin many of the other veterans of the Army's decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
"Although he was small in physical stature and maimed by the horrific realities of war, he was in every way a giant," Locklear told the audience. "His conviction, his humility, his courage, his honor and his selfless dedication allowed him to lead and inspire his soldiers to victory on distant shores many years ago.
"And these same qualities and values enabled him in his truly historic life. We have lost an irreplaceable American, a model of service to country and his values he so treasured."
The Hawaii Democrat, who died Dec. 17 at age 88 of respiratory complications, has been celebrated in Washington, D.C., and back home in the islands with rare distinction. The senior senator on Thursday became the 32nd person to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, his casket placed on the same catafalque built for President Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated.
He was eulogized Friday by Obama and former President Bill Clinton at the Washington National Cathedral. He was recognized Saturday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie at the state Capitol as thousands of residents came to see his body lie in state in the courtyard.
On a warm Sunday morning, Hawaii's political and business elite, joined by members of Congress and military and foreign dignitaries, gathered under tents at Punchbowl. Hundreds of residents endured the tight security for Obama and arrived by bus hours early for the limited public seating available on the lawn.
Inouye will be buried at Punchbowl later among family and friends, the same final resting place as his first wife, Margaret, and his political mentor, Gov. John Burns.
Over the past few days, several people close to Inouye have said he would have likely been uncomfortable with all the fuss. But the senator, a storyteller in private — often the saltier, the better — would have loved hearing the stories.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told of how former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., who had spent months with Inouye at the same Michigan rehabilitation hospital after being wounded in World War II — including a badly damaged right hand — wanted to pay his tribute to Inouye at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. Dole, who is now in poor health and uses a wheelchair, stopped in an alcove near the rotunda.
"He looked up and said, ‘Danny is not going to see me in a wheelchair,'" Reid said. "And this man got up out of his wheelchair, and even though he needed a little assistance, he walked — and it wasn't a short distance — he walked to that catafalque, that same one upon which the casket of Abraham Lincoln stood, and he wasn't satisfied just to be there. He wanted up on that platform so he could reach his friend of 60 years, Dan Inouye.
"He got up there — it was a little struggle, but he got up there — and soldier to soldier, with his left hand, he saluted his soldier friend."
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, described Inouye as a Hawaiian at heart who had broken barriers.
"He opened doors and made it possible for minorities like me, and later, like President Obama, and so many others to serve at the highest levels," he said as Obama nodded in agreement. "He shot all the way to the top of the Senate, becoming the Senate president pro tem, just to make sure that the (glass) ceiling was completely demolished.
"Mahalo nui loa, Dan."
Looking at Inouye's son, Ken, Akaka said he had given Inouye his dream of being a grandfather with his daughter, Maggie.
"Dan joked that you, Ken, finally figured out how to do it," the 88-year-old retiring senator said to laughter.
Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff, in the most moving remarks, said Inouye would often tell the story of how his father would take him to Chinatown to buy a koi or a carp to eat.
"They'd pick out the fish. They'd put it in a big burlap bag and return home. And then they'd put it in a big bucket of water. And the koi would thrash and splash water all over young Dan, violently attempting to elude capture. But once his father was able to catch the fish and put it on the cutting board, the koi lay very still," she said.
"Our beloved senator fought gallantly to overcome his health challenges during these last six months. He fought like a warrior. But when it was time, he went like the koi, with discipline and dignity."
The one-hour, 20-minute ceremony was restrained, with no flowers at the Inouye family's request. The 25th Infantry Division Band played the national anthem and the Army Song. Amy Hanaiali‘i sang "Hawaii Pono‘i" and "The Queen's Prayer." The Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii played "Danny Boy," the Irish ballad that Inouye, who lost his right arm in battle, had learned to play on the piano with his left hand during his rehabilitation.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., played taps on a trumpet.
The American flags that accompanied Inouye's casket were presented to Irene Hirano Inouye, the senator's wife, and to son Ken. Obama, who was sitting next to Irene Inouye, hugged her and kissed her on the cheek after she received her flag.
The senator's widow and son were also given presidential memorial certificates, which honor the memory of honorably discharged veterans.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who replaced Inouye as Senate president pro tempore, third in line to the presidency, recalled how senators — when they give up a desk in the Senate chamber — often leave a piece of paper with their names.
Leahy said that when he went to give Inouye's eulogy, he opened the drawer of a desk he has had for years and found a piece of paper. "It said, ‘Inouye, Hawaii,'" he said, pausing with emotion. "And I couldn't speak for 20 minutes."
"This is not the way I want to become Senate pro tem."
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, Inouye's choice as his successor, said the senator's homecoming would have been especially important to him.
"I think for us in Hawaii it hasn't quite set in yet," she said, "but I don't know how we will ever be able to make up" for his loss.
Robert Kishinami, a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was one of several of Inouye's "Go for Broke!" comrades who came to honor the senator's memory. Like many on Sunday, he marveled at the scope of the memorials for a young man who had been driven by the attack on Pearl Harbor to serve his country.
Inouye's sacrifice — and the sacrifice of so many of the 442nd in battle and back home — will ensure they will never be forgotten.
"I'm very proud of him," Kishinami said.