Last Monday, a quiet man of courage, selflessness and integrity passed from the scene. Longtime U.S. senator and Medal of Honor recipient Dan Inouye spent his last hours at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., surrounded by family members. His last word was, fittingly, “Aloha.” This word from the Hawaiian language means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. It also means goodbye.
A JAPANESE-AMERICAN who had faced heavy prejudice in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Inouye remained a patriotic American until the day he died. He waited 55 years before he was awarded the Medal of Honor that he earned on the battlefield in the waning days of World War II. Although shot in the stomach, leg and arm in a combat action, he never allowed his wound-related handicaps to hamper his commitment to public service.
There is a wonderful story about Dan Inouye that appeared in the Congressional Record in 1962. It is the written recollections of U.S. Rep. Leo O’Brien of New York. Alaska officially became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959, and that was the year Daniel Inouye was sworn in to the House of Representatives in Washington. From the Record:
“Tuesday last was the third anniversary of the admission of Hawaii. Today is the third anniversary of one of the most dramatic and moving scenes ever to occur in this House. On that day, a young man, just elected to Congress from the brand-new state, walked into the well of the House and faced the late Speaker Sam Rayburn.
“The House was very still. It was about to witness the swearing in, not only of the first Congressman from Hawaii, but the first American of Japanese descent to serve in either House of Congress.
“‘Raise your right hand and repeat after me,’ intoned Speaker Rayburn.
“The hush deepened as the young Congressman raised not his right hand but his left and he repeated the oath of office.
“There was no right hand, Mr. Speaker. It had been lost in combat by that young American soldier in World War II. Who can deny that, at that moment, a ton of prejudice slipped quietly to the floor of the House of Representatives?”
ON APRIL 21, 1945, Inouye was wounded while leading an assault on a heavily defended ridge in northern Italy. Three German machine guns opened fire. Inouye was shot in the stomach; ignoring his wound, he destroyed the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and fire from his Thompson submachine gun. He then rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he successfully destroyed.
As his squad members distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker. As he cocked his arm to throw his last grenade, a German inside the bunker fired a rifle grenade that struck him on the right elbow, severing most of his arm and leaving his own primed grenade “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore.”
As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left. Inouye tossed the grenade into the bunker. He silenced the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge.
CARRIED TO A field hospital, Inouye had his mutilated right arm amputated without proper anesthesia. He had been given too much morphine at an aid station and his doctors feared that more morphine would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him.
How can you honor Inouye and those who received the Medal of Honor? Here are three suggestions.
• Purchase copies of the best-selling book Medal of Honor by Peter Collier. Give copies to young people, to veterans or to those who love history.
• Attend the Jimmie Dyess Symposium on Jan. 10, and thank those who will be honored that evening, including Medal of Honor recipient Tom Kelley.
• Make a financial contribution to the Augusta Warrior Project – www.augustawarriorproject.org, or by calling (706) 434-1707.
Please note: Although there are a number of worthy groups raising funds to support wounded warriors and veterans, only the Augusta Warrior Project focuses totally on those in need in the CSRA. Also, since the board covers all of the administrative expenses, every dollar given to the AWP directly supports our local veterans.
(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – is the secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His web site is genpsmith.com.)