FOFOGA O SAMOA PASSES AWAY: “WE HAVE LOST A FATHER, A FRIEND”
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawai’i, a long time friend of American Samoa, passed away late yesterday afternoon at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C. He was 88.
A statement from his office says the late senator, who was a World War II veteran, Medal of Honor recipient and Hawaii's senior Senator, passed away from “respiratory complications”. His wife Irene and his son Ken were at his side. Last rites were performed by U.S. Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black.
He is survived by his wife, Irene Hirano Inouye, his son Daniel Ken Inouye Jr., Ken's wife Jessica, granddaughter Maggie and step-daughter Jennifer Hirano. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Maggie Awamura, the statement says.
U.S. President Barack Obama called Inouye an “American hero” and “someone revered by all” as he expressed condolences to the late senator’s family.
“...our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Senator...Inouye. The second-longest serving Senator in the history of the chamber, Danny represented the people of Hawaii in Congress from the moment they joined the Union,” said Obama in a statement released by the White House Press Office.
“In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve. But it was his incredible bravery during World War II — including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor — that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Inouye family.”
Inouye holds the Samoan chiefly title of Fofoga-o-Samoa, which was bestowed upon him more than 30 years ago, and the Tafuna Industrial Park also bears his name.
Gov. Togiola Tulafono, upon learning of Inouye’s death, expressed his sadness. “On behalf of the people and government of American Samoa, I wish to express our deep sorrow and sincere condolences and sympathy in hearing of the passing of Senator Inouye,” Togiola said in a statement yesterday.
“The Good Senator was a champion for the people of Hawai’i and he proudly adopted the people of American Samoa and the Pacific as his very own by embracing our concerns and offering assistance when we desperately needed it,” he said.
“He never took us as a people and government lightly, and that is why American Samoa held him in very high esteem and, with the highest honor, bestowed him the matai title — Fofoga o Samoa — the Voice of the People,” said Togiola. “Senator Inouye was very proud of the honor and graciously displayed in his office the Samoan symbols of authority, culture, foresight and wisdom — the to’oto’o (chiefly staff) and fue (sennit armor).
“To us, we have not just lost a man. American Samoa has lost a father. We have lost a friend. We have lost a Great Statesman who served Hawaii for seven decades. Senator Inouye loved people. He was a humanitarian institution,” he said.
“Mary, Lieutenant Governor Faoa Sunia and Mrs. Elisapeta Sunia and the people of American Samoa join me in expressing our words of comfort,” he said.
To Irene, and his son Ken, the Inouye family and the people of Hawai’i, “our thoughts and prayers are with you during these difficult times. We thank you for sharing this great man with the people of American Samoa. We say thanks for his service and dedication.”
“May God provide the strength to bear the pain and loss of Senator Daniel K. Inouye: A Great American,” he concluded.
Samoa News received word yesterday that the Fono is planning a resolution for Inouye, who “has been an advocate and staunch supporter of American Samoa in Congress.”
Congressman Faleomavaega Eni is reportedly enroute to a meeting in Asia and will issue an official statement soon.
Hawai’i Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement that Inouye “gave everything. He knew the true meaning of ‘Go for Broke.’ He left us with a legacy of honor and service to the people of Hawaii, to the people of this nation, without parallel.”
(See elsewhere in today’s edition on national reactions including those from Hawai’i on Inouye’s death, as reported by The Associated Press)
Aumua Amata yesterday expressed her shock at the news of Inouye’s passing. She said the senator and his late wife Maggie were longtime friends of her parents.
She explained that her father Peter Tali Coleman and Inouye attended law school at the same time: Coleman was a law student at Georgetown and also worked for U.S. Rep. George H. Bender, while Inouye studied law at George Washington University.
"I was stunned to hear the news and I am saddened. American Samoa has much to be grateful for through the efforts of Senator Inouye over the years,” said Aumua in a statement yesterday. “We will always remember that he was such a big friend of the people of American Samoa.”
“He always asked about my parents, Nora and Peter Tali Coleman, whenever I saw him on Capitol Hill,” she said. “In 1998 during my mother's last trip to Washington, one year after dad died, she told me she wanted to pay a courtesy call on Senator Inouye.”
“When I called his office, a message was immediately passed to Senator Inouye, who right away set aside time to visit with Mom. We went to his office that very afternoon and Senator Inouye and Mom spent 45 minutes together, just talking about the good old days,” Aumua recalled.
Aumua concluded, “This great leader cannot be replaced and we shall miss him very much. May his soul rest in peace.”
Department of Interior’s executive director for the Office of Insular Affairs, Nikolao Pula shared a personal story about the late senator, who recruited him back in 1982 as the first intern from American Samoa at Inouye’s Office.
“I was very fortunate to be hired by him as a special assistance intern,” said Pula in a phone interview from Washington D.C. “Inouye got me to his Hawaii office for six months and then to the Washington D.C. office to work for a year. He told me that if he was satisfied with my work, he would continue the intern program, which he did.”
He said his first assignment in Hawai’i was to write about who’s who of Samoans in Hawai’i — the leaders, those in churches, government and education. “The reason was because of Hawai’i’s growing Samoan population and this population would also become his constituents,” said Pula.
“Senator Inouye was my mentor, someone who I really respected. He is a great friend of American Samoa as well as all the territories and the freely associated states,” said Pula. “And I wanted to express my condolences to his family, his staff and the people of Hawai’i.”
StarKist Co., owner of StarKist Samoa cannery, issued an official statement late yesterday afternoon after learning of Inouye’s death.
“The employees and leadership of StarKist are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye, a true hero and protector of and advocate for the Pacific islands and their people, resources, and contributions to our collective good,” the statement says.
“We join our friends in Hawaii, American Samoa and the nation as a whole, in mourning his loss. As a leader, Sen. Inouye was a tireless advocate for the people of Hawaii, but also of the extended family throughout the Pacific. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Senator's family and friends at this difficult time. Aloha,” it says.
A prominent player on the national stage, Inouye served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Senate Commerce Committee and was the first Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
“When asked in recent days how he wanted to be remembered, Dan said, very simply, ‘I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK’,” according to the statement from his office. “His last words were, ‘Aloha’.”
See online edition of Samoa News for full details of Inouye’s background and service in the military.
Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report