Israel lost one of its best friends ever to serve in the U.S. Congress with the passing of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii. The nine-term senator, who sold Israel Bonds and once considered converting to Judaism, died Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from respiratory complications. He was 88.
His final word was: ‘Aloha.’
Danny Inouye, a liberal Democrat, was the senior member of the U.S. Senate, the second-longest serving senator in the history of the chamber and its president pro-tempore, making him third in line to the presidency. He was also chairman of the powerful Appropriations committee, and for many years had been the chairman or top Democrat on the foreign operations and defense subcommittees, where he played a pivotal role in advancing U.S.-Israel relations.
He once told me that he sold Israel Bonds to help work his way through college, and that he had considered converting to Judaism. He joked that he didn’t convert because being Japanese and having only one arm, he had “enough tzoris.” The real reason, apparently, was the effect on his devoutly Methodist mother.
His integrity, his quiet modesty and his firm belief in bipartisan cooperation won him the admiration and trust of his Senate colleagues and all who knew him. Nowhere more than among the supporters and people of Israel, where he was affectionately nicknamed “Trumpeldor” for the one-armed early Zionist hero.
Joseph Trumpeldor, who died in the 1920 battle of Tel Hai in the Upper Galilee, had lost his left arm in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904; Inouye lost his right arm in Italy in the closing days of World War II. For his heroism, Lt. Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor, but it took 55 years to get that recognition because Japanese-American Nisei servicemen were denied appropriate recognition for their heroism at the time because of their race.
The badly injured Inouye – his arm had been amputated in a field hospital without anesthetic – was sent to recuperate in Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he became friends with two other wounded GIs who would go on to be lifelong friends and serve with him in the Senate, Bob Dole of Kansas and Philip Hart of Michigan.