I'm not entirely comfortable with the term "greatest generation" but sometimes it fits a member of that generation like a glove. Senator Daniel Inouye was such a man. He died today at the age of 88.
He was a bona fide war hero, a Medal of Honor winner who fought for our country in World War II despite the wartime hysteria that led to the internment of Japanese Americans. In his case, he partially fought *because* of the prejudice, to prove that Asians were every bit as patriotic as the slack jawed rednecks who made up the army in those days.
Inouye was a genuine pioneer: the first Congressman from Hawaii and the first Japanese American United States Senator. But unlike many other trailblazers, he was a calm and quiet man. I guess when you lose an arm in combat, very little else is going to rile you.
Not only are the members of Brokaw's greatest generation dropping like flies, but the lions of the Senate are leaving us as well. If there is an after-life, I suspect Dan Inouye, Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, and Robert Byrd are swapping stories, counting votes, and lamenting what has become of their beloved Senate in the hands of pygmies like Mitch McConnell.
Inouye was not one for bloviating or speechifying but he made a very memorable speech ten years ago:
During the 2002 debate over the Iraq war, Inouye made a rare Senate floor speech - with no prepared remarks - in objection to President Bush's charge that Democrats weren't concerned with national security. The president had said that Senate Democrats' failure to pass legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security suggested they were "more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."
"Certainly, I did not vote for him, but he is my president, and it grieves me when my president makes statements that would divide this nation," Inouye said. "This is not a time for Democrats and Republicans to say, 'We got more medals than you, we've lost more limbs than you, we've shed more blood than you.'"
"This is a time when we should be working together, debating this issue," he continued. "It is American to question the president. It is American to debate this issue."
Thank you for your service, Senator, we won't see your like again.