U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye:Native son of Hawaii
I remember this story from his biography: The war had ended and Mr. Inouye was on his way home from Europe. He was a member of the Japanese-American army unit called the 442nd. They were one of the most decorated units during the war.
He was in a city in CA, in his uniform with one sleeve pinned to his shoulder since he had lost an arm in the war. He was later given the Medal of Honor for his act of bravery. He walked into a barber shop, in Seattle, wanting a shave and haircut, hoping to return to Hawaii with dignity.
He was greeted with “We don’t serve Japs here.”
I’m reminded of another man I’ve admired. He was a history professor at the University of Hawaii. His parents were sent to the internment camp in CA. during the war and I sensed his grief between the lessons taught in U.S. history. It was very common then to have sons of families fighting for our country while their parents were sent to internment camps. Years later I saw my professor’s face on the front page of the paper, indicted for not paying federal taxes and he was imprisoned for some years. I couldn’t help but conclude that perhaps it was his way of bringing justice to how he and his family were treated after Pearl Harbor. I met him ten years ago in a market in Hawaii. He shook my hand and expressed gratitude when I told him, “Dr. Inouye, I was a student of yours during my freshman year and you were one of the best professors I’ve had. ” His hand shake was strong for an old man.
Senator Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17, shortly after the 1941 Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. A son of a Japanese immigrant, Inouye had to petition the government for the right to serve in the U.S. military because he was declared an “enemy alien” for his Japanese heritage.
He became our first U.S. representative when Hawaii became a state in l959. I’ve shaken his hand a few times at political rallies.
Today he was honored by lying in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda the first non-President to have such an honor. Hawaii is grieving just as I am for a man who knew what it means to be American.