Senator Daniel K. Inouye

Air date: Tues., May 13, 7:30 pm


Original air date: Tues., May 13, 2008


The Distinguished Senior Senator from Hawaii


A very optimistic Daniel K. Inouye shares stories with Leslie Wilcox.


“At age 84? I would say that I expect interesting things to happen from now,” says Hawaii’s senior U.S. Senator.


Daniel K. Inouye Audio


Download the Transcript




Aloha no. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Mahalo for joining me for another LSS. Many people want the ear of Hawaii senior Senator Daniel Inouye. He’s one of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill, influencing policy and money decisions. I’d like to have a few words with him as well, but for a change, I don’t necessarily want to hear what he’s accomplished and or what he plans to do. I want to get a better sense of who he is.


Senator Daniel Inouye is 84 as I speak. And his objectives are different from most people his age. Still hard at work, he’s ambitious for Hawaii and for himself and he wants to climb to the next rung on the career ladder. At this taping, he’s looking to rise even higher in seniority and power in the Senate. And he’s eager to become a bridegroom on May 24, 2008. That’s his wedding date with Irene Hirano of Los Angeles. Our conversation begins with a story from 1959.


Ive tried to identify with what it was like when you went to Capitol Hill in ’59, representing Hawaii. And because I’ve just had a little taste of that since I’ve attended national conferences in this PBS job. When I say where I’m from, I see people’s eyes glaze over. In other words, you’re from this insignificant, isolated place, you don’t matter in the power grid, and they move on. Did that happen to you when hit The Hill? That was a lot longer ago.


Not exactly. As I said, I was lucky. I was in my office; this bare room, no books, all by myself, no secretary. And the phone rings. I pick it up; Hello. And the voice on the other end says, I can’t pronounce your name, but are you the new Congressman from Hawaiya? I said, Yes, sir. I’m the Speaker.


Sam Rayburn?


Yeah. He said, If you got free time, come around; I’d like to chat with you. I’ll be there, sir. Boom. I had no idea there was a tunnel or subway; I just got out. And this was in August; hot, hot, hot. I ran across the field, walked up the stairs. There he was. He took me on a tour of the House, told me where he sits, where I would very likely sit. Took me to a barber shop and said, We don’t pay these fellows enough, so tip ‘em 25 cents. This is the bank, this is all over the place. Then, we got back to his office. He’s sitting down, majestic, baldheaded. I’m on the other end. And he says, In this city, the President is the best known person. I said, Yes, sir. Next to the President is the Speaker of the House; that’s me. Next to me is you.




I said, Sir? He said, Well, after all, there are not too many one-armed Japs around here. [chuckle]


And you didn’t get offended?


No, I didn’t get offended. And I said, Oh, thank you. So, he said, make the most of it. And he was very good to me.


So he said, emphasize your differences.


Yeah. I was on the table, the Texas table. So when I got in, I sat down with the …




The reason for this, very likely, was the fact that the 442 rescued the Lost Battalion, the Texas—


The National Guard guys




Wow. So that, that was it, the Lost—


See, everything—


Battalion connection.


–happens like that. And he was good to me.


Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn represented the state of Texas whose 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Division – originally the Texas National Guard – became known as The Lost Battalion. During a storied World War II battle, 211 Texans were rescued from German bombardment in a forest in France. The rescuers were from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Battalion which suffered terrible casualties reaching the Texans. The young Dan Inouye well remembers the day America was thrust into the war at Pearl Harbor.


When you were 17 years old, I think it was three months after you turned 17, you began to grow up in a very big way, because Pearl Harbor was attacked.


Yes. It was a difficult time. I can’t forget this moment. On the 7th, we were preparing to go to church; Sunday. And I’m getting myself groomed up with a necktie; once a week, I wear a tie. And I’m listening to music and the disc jockey is just saying, And next, we have this and this. All of a sudden, he started screaming. Pearl Harbor is being bombed? The Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor! It’s not an exercise, it’s not an ex—and kept on doing this. I thought it was some kind of Orson Welles job. So I went out on the street, looked towards Pearl Harbor, and poof-poof-poof. I ran in, said, Papa, come out here. He looked at that, and all of a sudden, three planes flew right overhead, returning from the run. Gray; red dots.


You knew right away what it was?


I knew that the world had come to an end; my world. At least, I thought so.


Whatd you do right after that?


Then, I got in the house, I undressed, put on my work clothes, because I was then a member of the civil defense aid station. And I knew very well that they’d be calling me, and I wanted to be ready. So instead of waiting, I took my bike and left. And told my parents if they call, tell them I’m on my way.


What was it like when you got there?


Well, when I got there, it was just chaotic. Because just prior to that, the anti-aircraft shells somehow landed in McCully. See, oftentimes, when they put the shells into the gun, you put a timer on so that it would explode at 1,500 feet or 2,000 feet, or 3,000 feet. In this case, somebody forgot to put the timer. So about six of ‘em landed in McCully, causing casualties; about ten died. And so I was very busy from the moment I got there. You know where McCully Chop Suey is; King and McCully? Across the street used to be a drugstore with a soda fountain and all that. Now, it’s some fancy restaurant there.


Oh, Chef Mavro’s.


That’s right. That’s where; boom-boom-boom, you know.


Im just wondering if you could channel back to your early childhood in Mo‘ili‘ili, living on Bingham Tract, and tell me what your life was like. What street did you live on?


Well first, I lived on Hausten Street; no longer exists. The house, if you will call it that, was located across The Willows.


Which is now a parking lot.


Yes. And I did go to The Willows, because The Willows had been owned by a couple, a very wealthy couple, with no children, and they went to St. Mary’s Mission, oh about three or four blocks down the road and adopted two twins, a pair. And I used to go to St. Mary’s Church, so I’d get invited there. The pool in The Willows is an artesian well. And we used to swim there all the time. Further down the street, there were taro patches; we called them pake patches; and get chased out all the time, because we’re going for the juicy shoots. It was a great life. Went to Washington Intermediate, and then McKinley High School. And war came along.


Its well-known that Senator Inouye joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, lost an arm fighting in the European Theatre, and became a decorated war hero. He received rehabilitation services far beyond what most of our Iraq War veterans are getting. And he had no doubt about the need for that World War.


It was a great experience. I would never give it up. As people ask me, Knowing what you know now, would you go back again? Absolutely. Many of us felt terrible that your neighbors might feel that we are unpatriotic, un-American. Because couple of weeks after the 7th, we were all declared to be enemy alien. And it was 4C. 4F is physically unfit; 4C is enemy alien. We had no idea about the internment camps in Hawaii. We just noted certain people disappeared, but we had no idea where they were headed for. But the bulk of us all remained in Hawaii and we petitioned the White House; Please let us serve. And finally, the first of 1943, Executive was issued, forming this regiment. And I’m happy to tell you that 85% of the eligible Japanese Americans in Hawaii volunteered.


And you became a segregated unit.


Yup. And I was then in my first semester in college; I was in the pre-med club, because I wanted to be a surgeon. And there were thirty-five members in the pre-med club; thirty-three volunteered. And by coincidence, all thirty-three were accepted; not one became a doctor. They were either wounded, killed, or something happened.


At the time you came back from the war, and you’d lost your right arm, did it hurt not to become a surgeon, or were you past that dream? Did you—


Oh, I was—


want to be a lawyer?


I was past that. It’s something psychological. The moment it happens, you know that’s out. And some in the system, I don’t know how to explain that, because I’m not a psychiatrist, but—


At what point did you decide, I’m not gonna be a surgeon, that’s out? What was that point?


The moment I was hit.


Ive read your commendation; the description of why you won the Medal of Honor, and you probably didn’t write it.


So I want to find out if what it says is really what resonates with you. For one thing, it says you acted with complete disregard for your personal safety. This is as you climbed up this treacherous slope, right by a German emplacement, took it down, and then got up in front of another one and I believe, destroyed that one too with grenades. But did you really act without any regard for your personal safety? Did that all go away?


I’ll be very honest with you. Well, there were at least a dozen people watching all of this, I’m certain. Call it what you may; maybe it’s temporary insanity. And when I look back, I say, No, I didn’t do those things. But I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys you would say, You go first, buddy.


Dont ask anyone to do something—




youre not willing to do yourself.




So do you have a clear recollection of what happened during that incident?


No. I remember few episodes. There were three machine guns; yes, I remember that. I went for the first, and lucky, the grenade went into the hole, and boom, three guys got knocked out. There was another one, and that one was a little troublesome, because one of the gunners stood up with his rifle, and he fired point-blank, boom.


Shattering your arm.


And that part, I remember very vividly. Because I knew I had the grenade in my hand.


In your right hand?


Yeah. See, I was not a lefty. In fact, my left hand is slightly crooked, as you can see. It was broken when I was young. And so here I am, scrambling, looking for the grenade. I figured it fell. No, it was clenched in my fist.


And you had no movement.


And so I pried it out, and threw it. It went right in; boom.


Did you feel pain at that point? Were you feeling the pain? Your commendation also says that even with your right arm shattered, you kept working; you made sure your troops were in defensive positions until you went for medical aid.


Well, actually, it was a little worse than that. Here, it was bleeding. K-k-k, k-k-k, you know; blood beat. I picked up my gun with my left hand and—it must have been a gruesome sight. Charging up the third one; that’s when I got hit in the leg, and I went rolling down. And when I got down there, I started putting on the tourniquet.


Do you think of—at that time—of dying, or just what you have to do?


I think duty and responsibility during the training period got imbued in you. I never thought that I’d be dead.


Because you’re very optimistic. I’ve heard you say you have never been discouraged.


That’s right.


Were you not discouraged when you lost your right arm, and you had had these dreams of being a surgeon?


That’s momentary.


You spent, what, twenty months, was it, in a hospital?


Twenty-two months.


Twenty-two months in a hospital, recovering.


They gave me something that I’m so sorry to say—the prison—the Iraqi veterans are not getting; rehab.


Youre talking about more than physical rehab?


Well, I got all the surgical work, the medical work. I got a prosthetic appliance; they showed me how to use it. But then, they had a whole bunch of volunteers, a very complex program. I had to pass a test on sports. Golf, I flunked; before I finished the third hole, I was ninety-two. So they said, Forget it.




Swimming; that, you would think, What’s the big deal? I’m from Hawaii, Waikiki, I know how to swim. But then, it was not in the hospital pool; it was in a public lake. So I found myself on day one wrapped up with a towel.


Because you’re so cold?






It’s human nature; you don’t want your ugliness to be shown—


Oh. I see.


–to the public. You, you see eyes piercing you, right? Second time I just draped it over my shoulder.


But you don’t use one in regular life now.


Because it’s so warm. And the prosthetic appliance I had, you had to put on a stump sock, they call it. Heavy, woolen, and then you shove it into that hole, and strap across here. You perspire all the time. And I figured, as long as I had the muscles here [chuckle], skip that.


So you got through that rehabilitation, just having a comprehensive experience.


Carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, dining. You know, dining is important. As the instructor said, A man prefers steaks; but you got one arm. And the whole class was just one arm. The odds are, you’re gonna bypass the steak because you don’t want to tell the waitress, Please cut it for me. And especially your girlfriend; you’re not gonna ask her, Please cut it for me. So you’re gonna deprive yourself. He says, No, I’m gonna teach you to have confidence. You tell the guy, Please cut it; or you tell your wife or your girlfriend, May I have it bite-sized? They’d be happy to do it. See? And uh, little things; even sex.


There was a course on that too?


Yeah. But uh, this is a home program. [chuckle]


So you left after twenty-two months feeling, I know how to handle myself. And—


I used to play the saxophone and clarinet, but that was out of the question. So the instructor said, Why don’t you try the piano.


I says, What, are you kidding me? He said, No, try it. I passed the test. My colleagues in the hospital gave me a standing ovation. [chuckle] The twenty-two months—those were glorious days, believe it or not.




They gave me confidence. I left the hospital full of hope; I can conquer the world.


So here you were, an older college student; you went to school on the GI Bill.




At what point did you decide, I want to be a lawyer now?


In the hospital.


In the hospital?


This may sound strange, but there were two patients; both of them became senators, all about the same time. Phil Hart, a building is named after him, Philip Hart Senate Office Building. I’m in that building. The other patient was Bob Dole, who became Republican leader. And I was the third one. Now, there’s a hospital named after all three of us in Battle Creek, Michigan; the hospital we served in. And Bob Dole had his arm shattered, internal injuries; he had been in a blast. And when I saw him, he says, Well, I’ll be going soon before you get out of here. What are your plans? And without batting an eye, he said, I’m going to become a county attorney. Oh. And when they open up some seat in the Legislature, I’m gonna run for that, get elected. ’59, Hawaii becomes a state; I get in, I get to the Congress. Bob Dole is not yet. I sent him a telegram; Bob, I’m here; where are you? [chuckle]


Dan Inouye beat Bob Dole to Washington. But he almost didn’t make it. And especially right now, he’d much rather look forward than look back.


At that point, you had a long life ahead of you. Tell me what your life ahead of you looks like right now, at age 84. At age 84 I would say that I expect interesting things to happen from now. Well, living with Irene will be interesting in and of itself, even if I weren’t in the Senate. But in the Senate, I’m number three.


In seniority.


And the odds are, someday I could be president pro tempore, which is something I’m not working for, because, although constitutionally you’re third in line for the presidency. But I’m one step away from the Appropriations Committee. So some day, I may very likely be the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, plus Defense Appropriations Committee. And right now, I was selected as Mr. Pig or Mr. Pork of the Year.


Which are now called earmarks in the—




presidential campaign.


And I’m going to fight for it, because the constitution is very clear that the Congress plays a major role in establishing the budget.


And all of my programs are transparent, above board, monies for this. This is nothing crooked. I’ve had some that I had to explain. Now—


So the term earmark has become a bad word—


Oh, evil.


–on Capitol Hill. But it’s pork barrel spending, and uh, and you have brought a lot of that home to Hawaii.


If you call it that. East-West Center is earmark. The bridge to Ford Island; when I put that in there, they said, Oh, come on, Dan; what’s that for? It’s going into a desolate island. That’s why it’s going there. Now, you’re gonna have six hundred fifty family units, a thousand bachelor quarters, home for the special forces, centralized office of NOAA, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration, we’ll have a regular home now for the Missouri. It’s going to be a busy island.


So you’re gonna continue with earmarks.




I see.


And now, as chairman of Appropriations, I’m in better shape.






Senator Daniel Inouye also says he’s in great health and great spirits, anticipating marriage to Irene Hirano. He’ll share more about that next week as our Long Story Short continues. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


I see the chaplain moving around. He comes up to me, he says, Son, God loves you. And I said, Yes, I know God loves me; but I’m not ready to see Him yet. He looks at me, he says, You’re serious, aren’t you? I said, Absolutely; I’ve got a long life ahead of me. So he called the doctors; Come back. And he whispered a few things, and so they changed the notation. I was scheduled to be dead.


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