When I first heard about Senator Daniel Inouye, I was around 13 or 14 years old. He was on the ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings; I think he’d been named the Person of the Week. It was a brief piece about his long service in the United States government. That day I learned the senator from Hawaii, who passed away on Monday at age 88, lost an arm in World War II, but decades would pass before I would understand the enormity of his sacrifice as it pertains to Japanese Americans.
In school I studied the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but I learned nothing about Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent internment of people of Japanese descent. (Sen. Inouye and his family were not interned because Hawaii, not yet a part of the United States, was under US military rule, but the Inouyes were declared “enemy aliens.”) I also knew nothing about the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a segregated combat team comprised of Japanese Americans, including Sen. Inouye, who fought in the European Theater. Because of the regiment’s heroic service in Italy, France, and Germany, the 442nd is considered the most decorated infantry units in the history of the United States Army.
The motto of the 442nd was “Go for broke,” which Sen. Inouye seemed to have adopted for his life and career after the war. He was the first Japanese American to serve in the US House of Representative as well as the US Senate. He advocated for the civil rights of minorities, not only Japanese Americans, but Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and women.
To strengthen US-Japan ties by encouraging people-to-people relationships, Sen. Inouye and his wife, Irene Hirano Inouye, established the US-Japan Council in 2009. The non-profit organization brings together business, government, and community leaders from the United States and Japan to develop programs and an ongoing dialogue between the two nations.
Sen. Daniel Inouye was a WWII veteran, a Medal of Honor recipient, and a true American hero. We’re all fortunate that he had the courage to “Go for broke.”