b. 07/09/1924 Honolulu, Hawaii. d. 17/12/2012 Betheseda, Maryland.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 21/04/1945 near San Terenzo, Italy.
Daniel Ken Inouye was born in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii on September 7, 1924. His father, Hyotaro Inouye, was a jeweler who had immigrated to Hawaii from Japan as a child. His mother, Kame (née Imanaga) Inouye, was a homemaker born on Maui to Japanese immigrants. Her parents died young and she was adopted and raised by a family in Honolulu.
Inouye’s parents raised him and his siblings with a mix of American and Japanese customs. His parents spoke English at home, but had their children attend a private Japanese language school in addition to public school. Inouye dropped out of the Japanese school in 1939 because he disagreed with his instructor’s anti-American rhetoric, and focused on his studies at President William McKinley High School. He intended to go to college and medical school after his planned 1942 graduation.
Inouye witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, while still a senior in high school. The Japanese surprise attack brought the United States into World War II. Being a volunteer first aid instructor with the Red Cross, his supervisor called on him to report to Lunalilo Elementary School which had become a Red Cross station. There, he tended to civilians injured by antiaircraft shells that had fallen into the city. After the United States declared war on Japan the next day, Inouye took up a paid job from his Red Cross supervisor to work there as a medical aide. For the remainder of his senior year, Inouye attended school during the day, and worked at the Red Cross station at night. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1942. Although Inouye wanted to join the armed forces after graduating, he did not possess that right as a Japanese-American. The United States Department of War had declared all Japanese-Americans as “enemy aliens”, which stipulated they could not volunteer or be drafted for military service. Inouye enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in September 1942 as a premedical student with the goal of becoming a surgeon.
In March 1943, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei combat unit. Inouye applied and was initially turned down because his work at the Red Cross was deemed critical, but was inducted later that month. The unit was composed of over 2,500 Nisei from Hawaii, and 800 from the mainland. Inouye went with his unit in April to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for a 10-month training period, postponing his medical studies. While in Mississippi, the unit visited the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas, where Inouye witnessed the internment of Japanese Americans first hand.
The 442nd shipped off to Italy in May 1944 after the conclusion of their training, shortly before the liberation of Rome. Inouye was promoted to sergeant within the first three months of fighting in the Italian countryside north of Rome. The 442nd was then sent to eastern France, where they seized the towns of Bruyères, Belmont, and Biffontaine from the Germans. In late October, the regiment was transferred to the Vosges Mountains region of France, where they rescued 211 members of the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the “Lost Battalion”. Inouye received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant for his actions there, becoming the youngest officer in his regiment. During the battle, a shot struck him in the chest directly above his heart, but the bullet was stopped by the two silver dollars he happened to have stacked in his shirt pocket. He continued to carry the coins throughout the war in his shirt pocket as good luck charms, but lost them later, shortly before the battle in which he lost his arm. The 442nd spent the next several months near Nice, guarding the French-Italian border until early 1945, when they were called to Northern Italy to assist with an assault on German strongholds in the Apennine Mountains.
On April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on the heavily defended Colle Musatello ridge near San Terenzo, Italy. The ridge served as a strongpoint of the German fortifications known as the Gothic Line, the last and most unyielding line of German defensive works in Italy. During a flanking maneuver against German machine gun nests, Inouye was shot in the stomach from 40 yards away. Ignoring his wound, he proceeded with the attack and together with the unit, destroyed the first two machine gun nests. As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, the injured Inouye crawled toward the final bunker and came within 10 yards. As he prepared to toss a grenade within, a German soldier fired out a 30 mm Schiessbecher antipersonnel rifle grenade at Inouye, striking him in the right elbow. Although it failed to detonate, the blunt force of the grenade amputated most of his right arm at the elbow. The nature of the injury caused his arm muscles to involuntarily squeeze the grenade tightly via a reflex arc, preventing his arm from going limp and dropping a live grenade at his feet. This injury left him disabled, in terrible pain, under fire with minimal cover and staring at a live grenade “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore.”
Inouye’s platoon moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. As the German inside the bunker began reloading his rifle with regular full metal jacket ammunition to finish off Inouye, Inouye pried the live hand grenade from his useless right hand with his left, and tossed it into the bunker, killing the German. Stumbling to his feet, Inouye continued forward, killing at least one more German before sustaining his fifth and final wound of the day in his left leg. Inouye fell unconscious, and awoke to see the worried men of his platoon hovering over him. His only comment before being carried away was to gruffly order them back to their positions, saying “Nobody called off the war!” By the end of the day, the ridge had fallen to American control, without the loss of any soldiers in Inouye’s platoon. The remainder of Inouye’s mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia, as he had been given too much morphine at an aid station and it was feared any more would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him. The war in Europe ended on May 8, less than three weeks later.
His wounds saw a period of 20 months of recuperation, before an honorable discharge with the rank of Captain in May 1947. At that time, he had been awarded the Bronze Star, Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts. He chose to follow a career in law whilst also showing an interest in going into politics. In 1948, he married Margaret Awamura, a speech instructor at university. He passed the bar exam in August 1953, before successfully winning the 1954 November Election to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives. He served two terms before being elected to the Hawaii Territorial Senate in 1957. Midway through his first term, Hawaii became a full state of the United States, and he won a seat in the House of Representatives as Hawaii’s first member.
In 1962, he was elected to the US Senate succeeding the retiring Oren E. Long. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee between 1976 and 1979. He would be re-elected eight times to the Senate. He even announced plans for a 10th term of office shortly prior to his death.
On June 21, 2000, he was presented with his Medal of Honor at The White House, by President Bill Clinton. This was following a review into discrimination against Japanese-Americans (Nisei) in World War II. His Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. In 2006, his wife Margaret died of cancer, and in May 2008, he married Irene Hirano in Beverly Hills, California. She was President of the Japanese American National Museum. She resigned the position when she married Dan.
Senator Inouye died at Walter Reed Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland on December 17, 2012 due to respiratory complications and his last words were reported to be “Aloha”. On August 8, 2013, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The award was accepted on his behalf by his widow Irene.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
BURIAL LOCATION: NATIONAL MEMORIAL CEMETERY OF THE PACIFIC, HONOLULU, HAWAII.
SECTION D, SITE 391-A.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.