Senator Daniel Inouye, 'One of the Giants of the Senate,' Leaves Long Legacy

Billy House, Elahe Izadi and Michael Catalini
National Journal

Sen. Daniel Inouye, the Senate Appropriations chairman whose panoramic and compelling life story brought him from World War II hero to third in line in succession to the presidency, died on Monday.

His death at age 88 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center came as a result of respiratory complications, according to his office.

Inouye was the second-longest-serving U.S. senator in history, behind only the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. He also was one of 12 living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II, during which he lost an arm to a German grenade during a battle in Italy. He fought while serving in a regimental combat team consisting entirely of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

(PICTURES: Looking Back on Daniel Inouye's Senate Career)

Inouye also served as Hawaii’s first congressman after statehood in 1959. That means Tuesday will be the first time ever the state is not represented by him in Washington.

Inouye’s last word was “Aloha,” according to his office.

An emotional Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took to the floor on Monday to praise him as “one of the giants of the Senate.”

“We will all miss him. That’s a gross understatement. I wish I were capable of saying more, but that’s all I can say,” said Reid. The majority leader said he’d been talking on Monday to Inouye’s wife Irene, accompanied at the hospital by Inouye’s son, Ken, and had known for several hours “things weren’t working out well for Sen. Inouye.”

In a statement, President Obama said: “Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye.”

“In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve,” said Obama. “But it was his incredible bravery during World War II—including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor—that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him.”

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, will appoint a successor from among up to three possible appointees to be provided by the state Democratic Party. Then, there will be a special election held in 2014 to decide who serves out the final two years of Inouye’s term. Democrats are widely expected to hold the seat. But Inouye’s death means Hawaii—once towering in congressional seniority will now have two freshman senators.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is the likely successor as Appropriations chairman, but Inouye’s absence will likely mean others will move around on subcommittees.

There were no immediate details on his funeral, or whether his body will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.

Inouye’s death brings an end to a life story that included his enlisting in the U.S. Army shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. He lost his arm charging against a series of machine gun nests on a hill in Italy in 1945.

After the war, Inouye returned to Hawaii, got married, and eventually graduated from the University of Hawaii and the George Washington University School of Law in Washington. He served as a prosecutor, and in the then-territorial Legislature. After statehood, he served as Hawaii’s first congressman. In 1962, he successfully ran for the Senate, where he served for nearly nine consecutive terms.

Over the years, Inouye served as chairman of Appropriations and Commerce, and he was the first chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

He would serve as a member of the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and was chairman in the 1980s of the panel investigating the Reagan administration’s sale of arms to Iran. Inouye was serving as Senate president pro tem at the time of his death, ranking him behind only Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in line of succession to the presidency.

Throughout much of his career, Inouye fought for the indigenous rights of Native Hawaiians and the return of the island of Kahoolawe, as well as for the rights and benefits of military veterans.