HONOLULU – The late Sen. Daniel Inouye was remembered Sunday as an American hero whose legacy as a war veteran and longtime senator would be felt across Hawaii for years to come.
The memorial service at Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was attended by about 1,000 people, including President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Hawaii’s congressional delegation and a number of other senators, Cabinet secretaries and other dignitaries.
“Daniel was the best senator among us all,” Reid told those assembled, adding later: “Whenever we needed a noble man to lean on, we turned to Sen. Dan Inouye. He was fearless.”
The cemetery, a strikingly beautiful site located in an extinct volcano, is the final resting place to thousands of World War II veterans. More than 400 members of the storied Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team – of which Inouye was a part – are buried at the site.
Several 442nd veterans attended the Sunday morning service, the latest in a number of tributes and honors for Inouye following the 88-year-old’s Dec. 17 death from respiratory complications.
Buses that brought people to the service flashed the words “MAHALO Senator Daniel K. Inouye” – using the Hawaiian word for thank you.
Inouye’s widow, Irene, was seated with the president and first lady Michelle Obama in the front row.
Inouye was the first Japanese-American elected to both houses of Congress and the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history, at 50 years.
He was a high school senior in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941, when he watched dozens of Japanese planes fly toward Pearl Harbor and other Oahu military bases to begin a bombing that changed the course of world events. He volunteered for a special U.S. Army unit of Japanese-Americans and lost his right arm in a battle with Germans in Italy. That scratched his dream of becoming a surgeon, and he went to law school and got into politics instead.
“He was a shining star of the greatest generation,” fellow Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka said at the service.
Akaka, who served with Inouye for 36 years, also highlighted Inouye’s role in steering federal money to build roads, schools, housing and other infrastructure in Hawaii over the decades, from the beginning of statehood.
“Dan Inouye is Hawaii, and Hawaii is Dan Inouye,” Akaka said.
Inouye’s chief of staff, Jennifer Sabas, said Inouye was calm, in control and giving out instructions until the very end. Then, “he penned ‘aloha,’ and went on to a better place,” she said.
“Aloha, boss,” she said in closing, as she stood beside his flag-draped coffin.
Several services have already been held in Washington and in Hawaii for Inouye. He lay in state at both the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Thursday and the Hawaii state Capitol on Saturday. A public service is planned for Friday on Kauai. His burial is expected to be a private, family event.