BY DUANE A VACHON, PH.D. – Kame and Hyotaro would not have dared to dream from their home in the Japanese-American community of Mo’ili’ili, a suburb of Honolulu, that the son born to them on September 7th, 1924 would one day be third in line for the Presidency of the United States. They named him Daniel K. Inouye.
Dan had a normal happy childhood, as it is today it was then, a neat place for a child to grow up. Dan was a senior at McKinley high school on December 7th 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
When they heard the planes flying low over their house as they began their attack on Pearl Harbor, Dan and his father raced out to the yard. Both were stunned as they looked up and saw the rising sun on the wings of the aircraft that were about to drop their deadly load of bombs on Pearl Harbor. Dan remembers feeling almost numb by what he and his father were witnessing. As Japanese-Americans, Dan and his father both felt a sense of dread as they witnessed the event that was unfolding.
Dan immediately went to a nearby Red Cross station and began helping the injured. He had been teaching first aid to some local community groups so his skills as a medical volunteer were very much welcomed.
The following September, Dan – who had plans to become a doctor – enrolled in the University of Hawaii. Like many Nisei, Dan had tried to enlist but the War Department at first refused to accept Japanese-American volunteers after Pearl Harbor. Then they changed their minds. Dan put his plans to become a doctor on hold, quit school and enlisted. He was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. During training in Mississippi, the unit found its motto: “Go for Broke!”
By the time the 442nd shipped out for Naples in May 1944, Dan was a sergeant and squad leader. As a matter of interest, the casualty rate was so high that it eventually took 12,000 men to fill the original 4,500 places in the regiment. In June 1944 the 442nd became engaged in combat north of Rome, pushing the Germans back along the Arno River. In the summer, it spent several months fighting in France’s Rhone valley, where Dan was given a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant. The 442nd then returned to Italy.
On April 21, 1945, Dan’s company was ordered to attack a heavily defended ridge guarding an important road in the vicinity of San Terenzo. His platoon wiped out an enemy patrol and mortar observation post and reached the main line of resistance before the rest of the American force. As the troops continued up the hill, three German machine guns focused their fire on them, pinning them down. Dan worked his way toward the first bunker. Pulling out a grenade, he felt something hit him in his side but paid no attention and threw the grenade into the machine-gun nest. After it exploded, he advanced and killed the crew.
Dan continued up the hill, throwing two more grenades into the second gun emplacement and destroying it before he collapsed from loss of blood from his wounds. His men, trying to take the third bunker, were forced back. He dragged himself toward it, then stood up and was about to pull the pin on his last grenade when a German appeared in the bunker and fired a rifle grenade. It hit Dan in the right elbow and literally tore off his arm. He pried the grenade out of his dead right fist with his other hand and threw it at the third bunker, then lurched toward it, firing his tommy gun left-handed. A German bullet hit him in the leg. A medic reached him and gave him a shot of morphine. In his typical stoic manner he didn’t allow himself to be evacuated until the position was secured. In the hospital, the remnants of his right arm were amputated.
Dan left the Army and after a long period of recuperation, Dan finished college. Forced to give up his dream of practicing medicine, he decided to study law. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii in 1959—Congress’s first Japanese-American—and to the Senate in 1962.
On June 21, 2000, as part of a reevaluation of the military accomplishments of Asian Americans in World War II, Senator Inouye was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton for his heroism in Italy more than half a century earlier.
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
Inouye, Daniel K.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company E, 442nd Infantry. Place and date: San Terenzo, Italy, 21 April 1945. Birth: 7 September 1924, Honolulu, Hawaii. Entered service at: Honolulu, Hawaii.
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.
Senator Daniel Inouye also received the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Where I come from they would have said he had grit, here in Hawaii they say he has nui loa wiwo ‘ole, lots of courage.