After a 50-year career in the Senate — the second longest ever — Hawaiian senator Daniel Inouye died today at the age of 88. He had been admitted to the hospital on December 6 with “respiratory complications.” According to staff, his last word was aloha, which is a pretty great last word.
You may already know that as the nation’s most senior senator, Inouye served as the president pro tempore and was third in the line of presidential succession. What you may not know, because he seemed like such a gentle old man, is that Inouye earned the Medal of Honor during World War II, fighting for a country that, after Pearl Harbor, didn’t even trust Japanese-Americans like himself. And he did it by being an absolute badass:
The objective that day was to capture territory under enemy control, a heavily guarded ridge called Colle Musatello….
And as they did, three machine guns opened fire on them, pinning them down.
Dan pulled a grenade from his belt and prepared to hurl it forward. But just as he stood up, he felt a punch in his side and stumbled backward. He looked around, but there wasn’t a soul near him, so he shook off the punch and threw the grenade, exploding before the enemy in a shower of dirt. When the stunned enemy gun crew stood up, Dan took them out. As his men came toward him, one of them yelled, “My God, Dan, you’re bleeding!” Dan looked down at his stomach and finally understood that he hadn’t been punched – he’d been shot.
Even then, he kept going. It was how he’d been trained. It was the way of the 442nd regiment.
A moment later the unit was pinned down again. Unless something was done, they would be picked off one at a time by Germans. There was no time to lose. In a burst of adrenaline, Dan charged up the hill again, lobbing two more grenades. When the gunners saw him, he fell to his knees, pulling himself forward with one hand. His legs felt like soggy noodles and he couldn’t get his knees to lock in order to stand.
From behind him, Dan heard one of his men yell, “Come on, you guys. Go for broke!”
Dan managed to make it to his feet, shambling up the flank and drawing his arm back to launch his last grenade, when a German soldier stood up and aimed a rifle grenade at him. Dan knew he had only a fraction of a second to react. He cocked his elbow to throw the grenade just as the German fired and instantly hit Dan’s right elbow.
Dan surveyed his limp arm – dangling by only a few shreds of tissue – and focused his eyes in horror on the grenade squeezed in his fist. He commanded his fingers to release the grenade, but the connection between his brain and his fingers was dead.
Some of Dan’s men rushed over to help him but he yelled for them to get back. Reaching over with his left hand, Dan pried the grenade out of his clenched fist, managing to throw it, as the German who shot his right arm, was reloading his rifle.
The grenade blew up in the German soldier’s face.
Dan thought the skirmish was over, but there was one last German, a severely wounded one, who managed to discharge a few final rounds before lapsing into unconsciousness or death.
The bullet caught Dan in the right leg, knocking him to the ground.
“Get back up that hill!” Dan yelled, as some of his men came after him. “Nobody called off the war!”
Aloha, senator. Aloha.