WASHINGTON » Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Medal of Honor winner and the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history, was honored Thursday at the U.S. Capitol in a solemn ceremony usually reserved for presidents.
Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell. The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and good will he 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 who died in office and was accorded the honor was Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, in 1978.
“Sen. Daniel Inouye was a noble soul – one of the finest men I’ve ever met,” Senate Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, in opening remarks in the Rotunda. “It is with a heavy heart that we bid aloha.”
Inouye’s flag-draped mahogany casket arrived at the U.S. Capitol this morning where he will lie in state in the building’s soaring rotunda. Under a chilly, slate gray sky, Inouye 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 and hands folded.
It was placed on a black-draped catafalque – a funerary platform — in the same place where presidents Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan rested in state.
The military guard then stepped back in unison and slowly saluted one of World War II’s greatest heroes.
Inouye will remain in state until this evening. He will be escorted Friday to the Washington National Cathedral. The White House said Thursday that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak at Friday’s funeral service at the cathedral.
On Saturday, his body will be returned to Hawaii where he will lie in state at the State Capitol from 5 p.m. to midnight. A final public memorial ceremony at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl is scheduled for Sunday morning.
During a memorial service at the Rotunda, the nation’s second-longest serving senator was eulogized as one of America’s greatest lawmakers, patriots and soldiers.
House Majority Leader Republican John Boehner of Ohio called Inouye, “one of freedom’s most gallant champions.”
Long-time friend Vice President Joe Biden, “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, leaving behind a beloved friend and colleague.
The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and goodwill he 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 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. The soft-spoken but powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was 88.
Before Inouye made his mark as a politician, 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 his 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.