NEW ORLEANS (December 19, 2012) — The United States and The National WWII Museum lost a great friend and leader this week with the death of US Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
Inouye served as US senator from Hawaii for 49 years, the second-longest tenure of a senator in American history, and as a prominent World War II veteran worked tirelessly in support of efforts to document and pass on the war’s history.
Inouye’s death on Monday as a result of respiratory complications came just weeks before the opening of the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center at the Museum, an exhibition hall made possible in part by his strong support. Inouye played a lead role in securing a $20 million federal grant in 2010 to support construction of the latest major addition to the Museum’s campus.
An iconic figure in American military history, as a member of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and recipient of the Medal of Honor, the 88-year-old Democrat recently videotaped a welcome address for the $35 million pavilion and an oral history that holds immense value for Museum visitors and researchers.
Inouye and the late Ted Stevens, a Republican senator from Alaska, also a WWII veteran, provided early support for development of The National WWII Museum, which opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum.
The two senators joined other members of Congress in sponsoring a measure in 2003 that dramatically expanded the Museum’s role, designating it “America’s World War II Museum” with responsibility for depicting the full American experience in the pivotal military struggle of the 20th century.
“Senators Inouye and Stevens were both tremendous forces in the realization of our efforts to enlarge our mission to encompass all theaters of World War II,” said Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, the Museum’s President and CEO. “They both believed that our nation needed a museum of broad scope and exceptional quality to tell the American story of WWII for future generations. Theirs was a bold vision that motivated us all.”
Former California Governor Pete Wilson, a Museum Trustee who served with Inouye in the Senate, said “America is stronger and better in many ways” because of Inouye’s dedication and example.
“I do not lightly or often use the phrase ‘great American’ but indeed it understates the man, the life he chose, and the truly distinguished service he gave America — from the battlefield heroism for which he received the Medal of Honor to the decades of outstanding leadership that won him the admiration and deep gratitude of his Senate colleagues,” Wilson said. “Patriot, statesman, model of physical and moral courage and integrity, he was a loyal friend of great warmth and humor. I will miss him greatly.”
Inouye is remembered in Congress as a powerful, ethical figure who worked easily with members of both parties, returned many millions of dollars in benefits to his home state and served on a Senate panel investigating the 1970s Watergate scandal. But long before he began serving in Congress — initially elected to a House seat in 1959, when Hawaii became a state — Inouye became a war hero.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Inouye witnessed the surprise Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and in the chaotic aftermath served as a medical volunteer. Even though Japanese-Americans in the United States were regarded as a threat following the Japanese attack, with thousands placed in internment camps based on their race, Inouye enlisted in the US Army in 1943, interrupting pre-medical studies.
He joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised entirely of Nisei, or American-born individuals of Japanese ancestry. Promoted to sergeant within a year, he became a platoon leader with the 442nd, which carried the motto “Go For Broke!” and was known for its courage.
Inouye served in the Rome-Arno campaign in 1944 and was transferred to the Vosges Mountain region of France. Serving two weeks in a campaign to relieve a battalion surrounded by German forces, Inouye was shot in the chest — but survived because the bullet struck silver dollars in a shirt pocket.
On April 21, 1945 at San Terenzo, Italy, while leading a charge on three fortified German machine gun nests, Inouye was shot in the stomach but still knocked out one nest with grenades and machine gun fire. Ignoring his wounds, he rallied his men to destroy a second nest. Crawling to within 10 yards of the third enemy gun nest, he prepared to throw a grenade when German fire lacerated his right arm.
Keeping his men back as the live grenade remained frozen in his clenched right hand, Inouye pried out the grenade with his left hand and tossed it into the German bunker. He finished off soldiers in the bunker with a sub-machine gun before tumbling to the bottom of a gully.
When Inouye regained consciousness, surrounded by his troops, he barked at them to get back to fighting: “Nobody called the war off!”
Inouye’s arm was amputated without anesthesia, and the loss of the arm ended his dream of becoming a surgeon. Discharged in 1947 with the rank of Captain, Inouye was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at San Terenzo. In 2000, President Clinton bestowed the Medal of Honor on Inouye and 19 other Nisei who served in the war.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world — why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who served on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-527-6012 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org. Follow us on Twitter at WWIImuseum or visit our Facebook fan page.