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As ‘Nisei’ Soldier, Sen. Daniel Inouye Fought to Prove His Loyalty to America

Photo by U.S. Department of Defense.

World War II veteran and Senate pro tempore Daniel Inouye died Monday. The 88-year-old Democrat from Hawaii was the second-longest serving U.S. senator in history and was one of three remaining World War II vets currently serving in Congress

Born in Honolulu in 1924, Inouye was 17 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. His career in public service began by volunteering to provide medical assistance for the injured.

But when the U.S. officially entered the war, 5,000 Japanese-Americans in the U.S. military were discharged, and those of draft age, like Inouye became in 1942, were considered “enemy aliens.”

So when the U.S. War Department developed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, entirely made up of American volunteers with Japanese ancestry, Inouye enlisted and then served for four years in the U.S. army in the Mediterranean and European theaters, leading military battles in France and Italy.

Regular NewsHour contributor and presidential historian Richard Norton Smith reflects on Inouye’s service as admirable, especially at a time when Japanese-Americans were being forced into internment camps. “What’s relevant and what we should remember is the extraordinary love of country that he displayed, even when that country didn’t love him back,” Norton Smith said. “The fact of the matter is he distinguished himself on behalf of a country that had not always accepted him.”

Like many soldiers in the 442nd, known as “Nisei,” or second-generation Japanese-Americans, Inouye fought widespread prejudice and suspicions of disloyalty.

“It’s hard to imagine anyone confronted with the attitudes and prejudices that Dan Inouye faced in the wake of Pearl Harbor. He went on to serve and sacrifice,” said Norton Smith.

Here is a clip from Ken Burns’ documentary “The War,” where Inouye explains his motivations for service:

After losing his arm in the line of duty, Inouye returned to Hawaii an Army captain, having been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and 12 other medals and citations for his service in World War II. In 2000, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Clinton.

Inouye’s military service likely paved the way for his extensive public service in the U.S. Congress. “He became a symbol of [Hawaii],” said Norton Smith. “He was also extraordinary and diligent. He didn’t grandstand and he made it clear that the people of Hawaii sent him [to Congress].”

For more on Inouye’s career in Congress, watch NewsHour’s Tuesday broadcast on your local PBS station or via Ustream at 6 p.m. ET.

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