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Appropriator, Patriot: Hawaii Sen. Inouye Dies at 88

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Inouye was remembered by fellow senators Monday evening following his death at age 88.

Senators sat at their desks Monday evening, wiping away tears and looking on in disbelief as Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the death of Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye.

“If there were ever a patriot, Dan Inouye was that patriot,” said the Nevada Democrat, noting he recently met with Inouye in his Capitol office. “We ended the meeting by saying, you know, we both said we need to do this again, but I won’t be able to do it again.”

Shortly after his death, the Senate moved to replace the Hawaii Democrat as Senate president pro tem, a position that puts the holder third in line for the presidency. The role will now be filled by the man who also replaced Inouye as the most senior member of the majority party — Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. He is expected to be sworn in Tuesday.

Soft-spoken and media averse, Inouye did not often speak on the floor. But when he did, other senators often stopped to take note. The decorated World War II veteran took to the floor Dec. 7 of last year to recall the day he watched Japanese bombers fly over his House in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was present on the floor for that speech and recalled part of it Monday evening while lauding the war hero.

“I didn’t always agree with Dan. Occasionally we had differences about how to use appropriations bills,” McCain said, alluding to Inouye’s unabashed support for congressional earmarks. “But no one ... ever accused Dan Inouye of partisanship or unfairness.”

Indeed, Inouye was a loyal Democrat, but only to a point. He became best friends with the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, during their time in the Senate together. And when Stevens was accused of corruption in 2008, Inouye not only donated to his campaign, he appeared in Alaska on Stevens’ behalf.

Inouye served in Europe during World War II in a unit made up primarily of second-generation Japanese-Americans. During combat in Italy, he advanced alone to take out a machine gunner who had pinned down his men. He lost his right arm and spent 20 months in military hospitals. President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, highlighted that remarkable story.

“It was his incredible bravery during World War II — including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor — that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him,” Obama said.

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