I cried the first, second and third times I heard this story, it’s so extremely American in the best and worst ways.
Our story started on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941. A 17 year-old Daniel Inouye, a Hawaiian resident, was the first in line to enlist in the war effort, but he was turned away because he was Japanese and seen as an enemy to the United States armed forces. As many of you may remember it was during this time FDR began putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps, but this did not stop Japanese-Americans from wanting to fight for the country that gave them a new life. It wasn’t until the 442nd Infantry Regiment Regional Combat Team, also know as the “Go For Broke” Regiment, was established in 1943 comprised almost entirely of Japanese Americans that Daniel and the other loyal Japanese Americans were given the right to fight for their country.
He was sent out to Italy where there was deadly mountain fighting, entailing slow and bloody warfare. By April 1945, after fighting in only 6 battles he was promoted to the sergeant of his platoon. During the fighting he lead his men up a ridge to see men were being killed and his men were sitting ducks, that is if they didn’t make a move they would all end up dead.
So, by himself he kept advancing by throwing grenades and shooting machine guns at enemy lines. He even took a bullet through the stomach, but kept going, because he’s Daniel Inouye why wouldn’t he?
At one point his arm was blown off with a grenade so he took the grenade out of his, now useless, arm and threw it into a machine-gun nest, then continued to shoot with his one good arm at the Nazis (how bad ass is that? I checked 4 different sources to make sure that actually happened). He eventually made his way to a nearby tree and waited for nine hours until someone found him and helped him back to base.
Inouye was given a medal of honor and many other acknowledgements for his dedication to the American war effort.
After the events of World War II, the 442 was the most decorated unit in American history, following in his footsteps by fighting for the America that had given them their homes, jobs and families; but at the same time discriminated against them in every sense of the word.
When Inouye retuned, prejudice continued to plague America against Japanese, so Inouye went to law school and found a way to represent his people and all of those who had been discriminated against. He was elected to serve in the House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state.
That is how in 1963 Daniel Inouye became the first Japanese-American in the United States Congress while becoming the first ever Senator for the state of Hawaii. Inouye worked on committees that handled the Watergate scandal as well as the Iran-Contra Affair. He served as the President Pro Tem, a title given to the most senior member of the Senate along with being third in line to succeed the President (after the Vice President and Speaker of the House).
After passing away in 2012, President Barrack Obama explained how Inouye was an inspiration to him and without him, Obama would not have been in politics. At the time of his death, Inouye was the longest serving current United States Senator, having served nine consecutive terms.
Kind of long but a really moving speech from President Barrack Obama.
Also, this blog tells the story really well if you want a more colorful method of storytelling.