Daniel K. Inouye (1924– ) politician
Hawaii’s first U.S. congressman and the first member of Congress of Japanese descent, Daniel Inouye has represented, for more than 40 years, the patriotism of Japanese Americans. Committed to a strong national defense, he fought for compensation to Japanese Americans who had been imprisoned in internment camps during World War II (1939–45; see Japanese internment, World War II).
The son of Japanese immigrants, Inouye was born in Honolulu and graduated from the public school system there. As a freshman in college, in 1943, he enlisted in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought in Italy, where he lost his right arm and earned the Distinguished Service Cross (upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2000). Having experienced the discrimination then common against Japanese Americans, he determined to work on behalf of social change and to that end earned a law degree from George Washington University. Inouye won a Democratic seat in the Hawaiian territorial legislature in 1954. After serving in the U.S. House of Representatives following Hawaiian statehood (1959–63), he was elected seven times as U.S. senator from Hawaii (1963–2005). In the late 1970s, he supported the efforts of the Japanese American Citizens’ League, which lobbied Congress to establish the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Citizens (CWRIC). As a result of the league’s efforts, the Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, providing an apology for the internment and $20,000 for each survivor then alive. Speaking in favor of the measure before the Senate on April 20, 1988, Inouye observed that the CWRIC found no documented cases of espionage or sabotage by Americans of Japanese descent and reminded senators that “proportionately and percentagewise,” more Japanese Americans had served during World War II than non-Japanese, despite the fact that they were restricted to ethnic units.