Remembering Senator Daniel K. Inouye

As members of the public pay their last respects to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage remembers the honor of his participation in three Center projects: the Hawai‘i Folklife Festival (1989), the National World War II Reunion (2004), and the “Asian Pacific Americans: Local Lives, Global Ties” Festival program.

The Senator, who passed away on December 17, 2012, has left behind a remarkable legacy that includes military service and a Congressional Medal of Honor, a half-century in national politics, and a lifetime commitment to championing the causes of his home state of Hawai‘i and furthering the civil rights of all Americans.

This interview with the Senator was recorded in 2004 on the occasion of the National World War II Reunion. In this segment, which is 13 minutes in length, he describes the transformative impact of WWII on the course of his life and he shares several poignant stories recounting the wisdom of his father Hyotaro Inouye.

Senator Inouye at the 1989 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. All photos from the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Senator describes his WWII military experiences, including his enlistment, basic training, and the relationship between the mainland and Hawai‘i soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival Hawai'i program, 1989

CFCH media director Charlie Weber recalls this interview and his interaction with the Senator:

It’s not true that the camera sees all. Much of the time, the best and most meaningful stories aren’t captured, but are told off the cuff and after the cameras are returned to their cases. My visit with Sen. Daniel Inouye went like that. I’d visited him with a film crew in the spring of 2004. We wanted some good stories to help commemorate the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington.

I’d looked forward to our talk for weeks, as I am Japanese American and my father was a veteran of the war. The senator was a wonderful storyteller, with such an easy way about him. It was one of the easiest conversations I’d ever had. The way he saw things, his experience as a soldier in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had shaped his life. His colleagues in that fighting force had “taught him what brotherhood was all about, what comradeship was all about.” He told us that they had “taught him how to be a man.”

Smithsonian Folklife Festival Hawai'i program, 1989

So, on that day, while the camera crew was packing up, the senator took me into his office. He held up a family photo. Very gently, he told me that everything he had earned in life, he owed to the men of the 442nd. We sat down and he shared one last story, something that had happened after he returned to his hometown on Hawai‘i.

The Army had ordered a car to take him to his parents’ home. He was returning as an officer, wounded in action, missing an arm. Inouye made to get into the front seat. The driver, a white sergeant, saluted, and told him very plainly that, no, he was to sit in the backseat. Inouye complied. Near the end of their time together, as they neared Inouye’s neighborhood, the sergeant told him how things were to go: “When we get to your parents’ home, you will not open the door of the car. You will wait for me to open it for you. When you come out, you will look me in the eye. I will salute you. You will not salute me. And you will tell me, ‘that will be all, sergeant.'”

Smithsonian Folklife Festival "Asian Pacific Americans: Local Lives, Global Ties" program, 2010. Photo by Richard Strauss

When they arrived, the senator’s parents came out to the front yard. They had been waiting at the window for their son. In front of his mother and father, Inouye did as he was told. The sergeant gave him his crispest salute. Inouye looked him in the eye and nodded, “That will be all, sergeant.”

Fifty years later, sitting in his office in Washington, D.C., the senator confided that in quiet moments, he often thought of that sergeant. And now, so do I. About the man’s eagerness to show Inouye’s parents the respect their son had earned as a veteran and a member of a highly decorated unit of World War II. What a gift from one soldier to another.

Mahalo and Aloha, Senator. Rest in Peace.

  • http://Google Cathy Nalu-Poulin


    I truly enjoyed the videos, pictures and stories you have posted to pay your last respects to Senator Inouye. I shared it to my facebook for the rest of my Ohana to see. His calming way of speaking reminds me of the Elders in My own Ohana. I imagine His family are as we are, listening to the Elders talk story for hours without complaint cause they have a way of captivating your attention even as a child. As i was reading through your post and the many great things He did with His life for our Beautiful Islands and People (All People) I wondered for a moment who would or even could take his place as Senetor for Hawaii. It only took a few moments to realize that know one could. That December 17, 2012 marks the closing of a remarkable person who thanking him would not even touch all that he has done. So the only thing left would be to Honor Him. And Decenber 18, 2012 marks the era of a new legend. Mahalo Senetor Inouye for your great leadership and stories. R.I.P.

    Aloha Lui Noa,
    Cathy Nalu-Poulin

    • Smithsonian Folklife Festival

      Thank you for your heart-felt comments and for sharing your reflections on the Senator’s passing.

  • Jerry

    What a great and humble human being. I was extremely fortunate to hear Senator Inouye speak at a convention. We were all thrilled with his remarks and he received a standing ovation. All Americans owe this great man a debt for what he did for us throughout his life.