POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 24, 2012
From private to general and admiral, and from white-haired 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran to the commander in chief, the loss of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was felt through the ranks of all branches of the military at his memorial service Sunday at Punchbowl.
"Nobody's going to replace him, I know that — somebody with that much respect," said Spc. Nick Salanoia, 29, who is part of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery.
The unit marked the arrival of Inouye's black hearse at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at 10:10 a.m. with 19 booming cannon shots from its 105 mm howitzers — a number reflecting his position as third in line to the presidency.
Inouye's service in World War II with the "Go for Broke" 442nd was remarkable enough; he lost his right arm charging multiple German machine gun nests in Italy.
That he endured so much for the nation in racial prejudice and gave so much back to his country and its military through more than a half century as a politician — and that he did so with so much humility and passion — were recurring themes among those who spoke of his unique life.
"There is no aspect, no aspect, of military readiness today that does not have the Inouye mark," retired Army Brig. Gen. James Hirai, a Leilehua High School graduate, said during his remarks.
"The senator knew that our military needed and deserved world-class combat systems as well as sustainment and repair, realistic training, engagement with other militaries and capable Reserves and National Guard," said Hirai, deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
As a case in point, when four F-22 Raptor fighters soared overhead in a missing-man formation, the jet that pulled up and away from the other three had previously been named for Inouye in recognition of his efforts to bring 18 of them to Hawaii.
Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said the plane has the pilot and crew chief's names, and stenciled below those is "Sen. Daniel K. Inouye."
Ronald Oba, 90, among more than 15 World War II 442nd vets who attended the service, said Inouye was "a giant among men."
"He brings even the president of the United States to his funeral," Oba noted. "I think it's a great honor for one of our 442nd veterans."
Inouye and his fellow Japanese-American soldiers didn't start out with such respect, Oba said.
When the soldiers arrived at Camp Shelby in Mississippi for training, one newspaper headline read, "Japs invade Mississippi," Oba recalled.
Hirai said not widely known is that Inouye, after being wounded three times in Italy in 1945 — including being hit by a German rifle grenade that destroyed his arm — endured a nine-hour evacuation by stretcher.
He also endured, while in the uniform of a U.S. Army captain with his right sleeve pinned up, being denied service in a restaurant because of his race.
Inouye "did tremendous work on behalf of his nation — a nation that originally didn't recognize him as even a reasonable citizen to wear the uniform of the United States Army," said retired Air Force Col. Walt Kaneakua, Inouye's military affairs officer, before the ceremony.
"But throughout those years, and despite that, he fought on for all Americans, especially those who had little voice for themselves," Kaneakua said.
Inouye was one of the most humble people that Kaneakua said he ever met. Inouye received the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II but didn't wear it.
He was, however, very proud of his good-conduct ribbon, "which he said was the only decoration that he really earned," Kaneakua said.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, read a World War I poem about soldiers falling at Flanders Fields in Belgium with the lines:
"To you from failing hands we throw,
The torch; be yours to hold it high."
"On behalf of the men and women of the United States armed forces, we promise to lead our military and our nation with vigor and character and the grace of Daniel K. Inouye," Locklear said. "Captain, senator, you can rest in peace in your Flanders Fields. We have the torch."