The Right Stuff: Senator Daniel Inouye

“The Right Stuff ” is a term popularized by author Tom Wolfe in his rollicking, uproarious, roller-coaster-ride of a book by the same name:  a book about the seven original astronauts selected for Project Mercury.

They were men who had what it  took to climb into a massive rocket loaded with explosive fuel and blast off into space. They had the Right Stuff.

In that spirit I’ll present awards from time to time to people with the Right Stuff. People who take on a challenge and triumph over obstacles. Or who suddenly, unexpectedly find themselves in a challenging situation and rise to the occasion quietly and competently. Those who demonstrate what a single person can accomplish if she or he has the Right Stuff.

And the Right Stuff Award goes to Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii

On September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States aboard the USS Missouri. Daniel Inouye, then just a few days shy of his 21st birthday, remembers it well. At the recent 65th anniversary of the event, he recalled that he had been honored to play a small part in bring the Mighty Mo to Hawaii.

Bravery in battle

Daniel Inouye volunteered for service in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. He was assigned to the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese American unit, and saw heavy action with the Fifth Army, first in Italy, then in France, and back in Italy.

It was there he was very seriously wounded, as described in this TimeLine  chronology  of his life

1945   –Back in Italy, the 442nd was assaulting heavily defended hill in the closing months of the war when Lt. Inouye was hit in his abdomen by a bullet which came out his back, barely missing his spine. He continued to lead the platoon and advanced alone against a machine gun nest which had his men pinned down. He tossed two hand grenades with devastating effect before his right arm was shattered by a German rifle grenade at close range. Inouye threw his last grenade with his left hand, attacked with a submachine gun and was finally knocked down the hill by a bullet in his leg.

1947  —Spent 20 months in an Army hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan after losing his right arm.

 

Years later—when Senator Inouye sat down at the piano to play “Danny Boy” with his left hand—he would say
“It was part of the rehab. I had to learn how to play it before I could leave.”

During his service, Daniel Inouye earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart with clusters, a Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest award for military valor) and 12 other medals and citations.

A long career in public service

After returning to Hawaii, Mr. Inouye earned degrees from the University of Hawaii and then from George Washington University Law School. He was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954 and to the Territorial Senate in 1958.

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Daniel Inouye was elected its first Congressman. In 1962 he was elected to the U.S. Senate and serves there to this day.

He received another honor in 2000 when he—along with 22 Asian-American veterans of World War II—was awarded the Medal of Honor. According to the chronology linked to above, “The honors came after a review of service records of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who received the Distinguished Service Cross to determine whether their awards should be upgraded.”

Senator Inouye has served his country in war and in peace for over 65 years. What lessons can we learn from his example? What qualities do you think kept him going during his 20 months in a rehab hospital? I welcome your thoughts.

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  • Madeleine Kolb 02/23/2011, 7:43 pm

    Hi, Belinda,

    The Senator is inspirational in so many ways. Certainly, his courage in battle and his contributions after losing his arm are remarkable. I also admire the way he continues to serve well into his 80’s.

  • Belinda 02/23/2011, 6:00 pm

    This was a delight to read, Madeleine. Senator Inouye has dedicated most of his life to public service and reading about his courageous acts in battle remind us that personal tragedies need not get in the way of having a fulfilling life.