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A Capitol Goodbye to Inouye

Sen. Inouye's coffin is set down on the catafalque, the same one used for President Lincoln, President Kennedy and in a handful of other ceremonies at the Capitol. (Chet Susslin)

photo of Elahe Izadi
December 20, 2012

On Thursday morning, the partisan back-and-forth stopped for a moment. It wasn’t the impending fiscal cliff that loomed largest.

Instead, it was the larger-than-life memory of Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who died Monday after respiratory problems and lies in state today.

Senators and members of Congress gathered for a memorial to reflect upon the quiet dignity of an honest-to-God war hero, a man who broke racial barriers on the Hill and was Hawaii's voice in Washington ever since the day she become a state.

(PICTURES: Washington Says Goodbye to Daniely Inouye)

Congressional leaders and Vice President Joe Biden spoke of Inouye, 88. He was “someone you looked at and you knew he was a better [man] than you,” Biden said. "Danny made me proud to be a Senator.”

The son of Japanese immigrants, Inouye enlisted in the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, even though he was first declared an enemy alien. He lost his arm while fighting in Europe, and was eventually given the Medal of Honor for his service.

Inouye’s dream of becoming a surgeon had been dashed by his war injury, and instead he continued a life of public service. He became a lawyer and eventually Hawaii’s first congressman in 1959. He was elected Senator in 1963 and served in that capacity until the day he died.

He eventually became the third in line to the presidency, but truly came into the national spotlight for his roles in the Senate investigations of Watergate and Iran-Contra. He was known for eschewing typical partisan bombast, and even campaigned in 2008 for his Republican friend, the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.

"Some who served with him for a long time will remember he was one of the few people who'd stand on the floor to defend a colleague who was under siege, without ever considering the political consequences to him back home,” Biden said. “He always just did the right thing. He always had the moral courage to do the right thing.”

The respect and love that his fellow senators had for him was evident today. One by one, they walked around his casket, many of them with tears in their eyes. As Sen. Barbara Boxer greeted Rep. Carolyn Maloney, she whispered “the sweetest, kindest.”

Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who has served alongside Inouye since 1989, walked around his friend’s casket and quietly greeted members of the lower chamber with a smile across his face and eyes full of tears.

After the prayers and farewells, members dispersed to go on with matters of the day. Elsewhere in the Capitol, votes on competing fiscal cliff aversion plans will go on as planned, as will press conferences to blast opponents for their stances on taxes and entitlements.

But Inouye will lie in state for the remainder of the day. Nearby, a small, purple lei humbly rests upon a table, below a towering U.S. Army flag -- a fitting symbol for a man who was, in many ways, defined by his heroism in war, a man who was Hawaii.

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