Inouye farewelled at dignified service in Washington
Given my family’s long-standing history with Hawaii Senator Dan Inouye, I had every intention of attending his funeral last Friday in Washington on a personal basis, but I was honored to have been designated by Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus to also formally represent the Republican National Committee at the service.
A hallmark of Senator Inouye’s career was his ability to seek consensus along bipartisan lines, so it was entirely fitting for RNC to honor him this way and I felt especially privileged to represent RNC for this gesture of respect.
While there also will be burial services in Hawaii, the service in Washington was the main memorial to him and I was proud to be part of it. Held at the ornate and massive Washington National Cathedral on a cold early winter day, the two-hour celebration and thanksgiving memorial service brought together the nation’s political elite from both sides of the political aisle from both Houses of Congress. A day earlier the senator lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda so that people from all walks of life could pass his bier to pay their respects to a man who was the second longest serving senator in U.S. history.
While I sat quietly in this great historical Cathedral where President Woodrow Wilson is buried, I watched all the political leaders file in and I quietly listened to the testimonials to Senator Dan’s career, led by President Obama. Others who spoke included Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, U.S. Senator-elect Mazie Hirono and Senate Chaplain RADM Barry Black.
The Cathedral was packed, because even though it is so close to Christmas when Congress is normally in recess, negotiations to end the “Fiscal Cliff” crisis are still on-going, so virtually all members of the House and Senate are at their duty stations to protect the interests of their constituencies.
I couldn't help but realize just how deeply this great, humble leader was loved and respected and that all of these people had braved the cold weather to be there to express a final thank you to a man who never hesitated to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. We in the territories especially American Samoa will always remember the senator for his big heart who from the beginning quietly took us under his wing and kept on eye on us for all the years he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Former President Clinton said it best when he observed that "Sen. Inouye didn't care whether the sun was shining, he was just there. He said what needed to be said and he gave so much of himself because that's who he was, a whole person united by his parts." Although President Clinton's name was not on the program as a speaker, he got right up and spoke out of his heart.
Hawaii’s own Eric Shinseki, a retired army general who now is Secretary of Veterans Affairs, reflected on Dan Inouye the military hero, whose enormous resolve and principle taught others what it means to be an American and how he prevailed in combat. He eventually received twenty-one medals and ultimately the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the battlefield.
Senator Reid reminisced about Inouye's best friend, Senator Ted Stevens and how his and Inouye's bipartisan partnership demonstrated that great accomplishments are possible when people set party politics aside for the common good of the people.
Vice President Biden quoted his own mother's words: "You are defined by your courage and redeemed by your loyalty." He observed that Senator Inouye personified his mother's words and added that even during the time of prejudice against the Japanese, no one was more trusted and respected by his colleagues than the late Senator.
The music of the Cathedral Choir was awesome, especially their rendition of “America the Beautiful” while wonderful music from Senator Inouye's own state of Hawaii was presented by The Aloha Boys: Isaac Jesse Waipulani Ho'opi'i on guitar, Irv Queja on bass guitar with Glen Hirabayashi on ukulele.
As the service closed, I thought back to the day when Senator Inouye set aside an hour of his busy office schedule just to visit with my mother and talk about the good old days during her final visit to Washington after my father died. I learned a lesson in that single act of courtesy on his part. And over the years, Senator Inouye taught me other things that I've incorporated into my life: He taught me about enormous resolve, humility and respect for others, standing on the principles that mattered to others. He lived each day and year to its fullest and while there's sadness today, there's no regret.
He wielded enormous power but did so in an understated way that we all could do well to observe and emulate. Goodbye my dear senator. Hawaii had no greater son and American Samoa no better friend.