Some Washingtonians have been a part of the District and its institutions for so long that they become living history.
This week Washington said Aloha to the second longest serving Senator in American history – Daniel Inouye. Senator Inouye passed away on Monday at Walter Reed Medical Center at the age of 88.
He had represented Hawaii in Congress since 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state. He was a decorated World War II combat veteran, Representative, Senator, and third in line to the Presidency.
And today, members of Congress paid tribute to him as he lay in state in the Capitol’s Rotunda, a rare honor for any politician.
You can pay your own tribute to this longtime Washingtonian at one of the city’s interesting but often overlooked memorials – the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II.
It’s in sight of the Capitol building on Louisiana Avenue, not far from Union Station. The memorial comemorates those who were placed in internment camps after Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 -which gave the federal government the power to round up Japanese Americans and hold them in ten detention camps across seven states for the duration of the war.
The memorial also honors the patriotism of the Japanese American soldiers who volunteered and fought in WWII, despite the infringement of their civil liberties by their own government.
Daniel Inouye was one of those soldiers.
On December 7, 1941, he was only 17 and living in his hometown of Honolulu. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he vounteered to provide first aid to the wounded. Two years later he volunteered for the army after the miliary lifted its ban on Japanese American soldiers.
He had an incredible record of service with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, all made up of second generation Japanese Americans. He served in Italy
and France, lost an arm during combat, and was awarded several times for valor – including receiving the National Medal of Honor from President Clinton in 2000 along with other Japanese American veterans.
After the war, Inouye studied law in the District at George Washington University, and later became Hawaii’s first member of Congress in 1959, and a Senator in 1963.
He was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, but became famous nationwide for his role in the Watergate and Iran Contra investigations. He would also become one of the most powerful members of the Senate – albeit a relatively quiet one.
But his words still speak loudly at the Japanese American Memorial.
“The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group.”
It’s definitely a reminder of the importance of guarding civil liberties, even – or especially – during a time of war.
As a guide, I’ve taken several Japanese groups to the memorial over the years. But what’s struck me is how relevant the memorial has been for some of my other groups – like Muslim visitors after 9-11.
Every time I visit that memorial now, I’ll be reminded of Daniel Inouye. And I’ll say an Aloha to a man who was almost as Washingtonian as he was Hawaiian.