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Born Sept. 7, 1924, to immigrant parents in Honolulu, Inouye was 17 and dreaming of becoming a surgeon when Japanese planes flew over his home to bomb Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, changing the course of his life.
In 1943, Inouye volunteered for the Army and was assigned to the famed Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which earned the nickname "Go For Broke" and was one of the most decorated units of the war. Inouye rose to the rank of captain and earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Bronze Star. Many of the 22 veterans who received Medals of Honor in 2000 had been in the 442nd.
Unlike the families of many of his comrades in arms, Inouye’s wasn’t subjected to the trauma and indignity of being sent by the U.S. government during the war to internment camps for Japanese Americans.
"It was the ultimate of patriotism," Inouye said at a 442nd reunion. "These men, who came from behind barbed wire internment camps where the Japanese-Americans were held, to volunteer to fight and give their lives. ... We knew we were expendable."
Inouye said he didn’t feel he had any choice but to go to war.
"I tried to put myself in the shoes of my neighbors who were not Japanese," Inouye once said. "I felt that there was a need for us to demonstrate that we’re just as good as anybody else.
"The price was bloody and expensive, but I felt we succeeded," he said.
Inouye’s dream of becoming a surgeon ended in the closing days of the war.
On April 21, 1945, he was leading a charge on a machine gun nest in Italy’s Po Valley. He was shot in the abdomen, but kept inching toward the machine gun and managed to throw two grenades before his right arm was shattered by a German grenade. Even then, he continued to direct his platoon.
"By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance," his Medal of Honor citation said.
He spent the next 20 months in military hospitals. During his convalescence, Inouye met Bob Dole, the future majority leader of the Senate and 1996 Republican presidential candidate, who also was recovering from severe war injuries. The two later served together in the Senate for decades.
"With Sen. Inouye, what you saw is what you got and what you got was just a wonderful human being that served his country after the ill-treatment of the Japanese, lost an arm in the process," Dole said Monday. "He was the best bridge player on our floor. He did it all with one arm."
Despite his military service and honors, Inouye returned to an often-hostile America. On his way home from the war, he often recounted, he entered a San Francisco barbershop only to be told, "We don’t cut Jap hair."
He returned to Hawaii and received a bachelor’s degree in government and economics from the University of Hawaii in 1950. He graduated from George Washington University’s law school in 1952.
Inouye proposed to Margaret Shinobu Awamura on their second date, and they married in 1949. Their only child, Daniel Jr., was born in 1964. When his wife died in 2006, Inouye said, "It was a most special blessing to have had Maggie in my life for 58 years."
He remarried in 2008, to Irene Hirano, a Los Angeles community leader. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, with whom Inouye forged a remarkable friendship and alliance, served as Inouye’s best man.
Inouye shunned the trappings of Washington’s elite, leaving the telephone number of his Bethesda, Md., home in the phone book.
He took pride in handling even the smallest requests from his constituents.
He said he once was awakened at 2 a.m. by a telephone call from a Hawaii family asking for help in getting a soldier home for a family emergency. Inouye said he immediately called the Pentagon, and 30 minutes later the soldier had his orders to return home.
"That’s a special type of satisfaction that I can enjoy that none of you can," he said.
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