Columbus, Georgia – As the United States Army’s newest Soldiers complete their initial training at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, they will march across soil fought for by Daniel Inouye, an Infantryman who earned the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War II. Inouye went on to become one of the U.S. Senate’s most highly regarded and longest serving members before his death in December 2012.
The parade field at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus/Fort Benning, Georgia, was dedicated to Inouye in a ceremony September 12. The dedication was held in conjunction with the graduation of two companies of brand new Soldiers.
The Maneuver Center’s Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, talked to the graduates about the significance of the event. “You will forever be linked with a great Soldier, a courageous Soldier, a heroic Soldier and a great statesman who I wish could be here today,” Miller said.
Inouye was born in Honolulu. His grandparents had emigrated from Japan to work in Hawaii’s sugar cane fields. The young Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17, just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat near San Terenzo, Italy, in April 1945 while serving with the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team. Then a second lieutenant, Inouye was shot while leading a charge on a machine gun nest. He kept moving toward the machine gun and managed to throw two grenades before a German-thrown grenade struck and shattered his right arm. Despite the serious wounds, he continued leading his platoon.
“By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance,” his Medal of Honor citation said. The Medal was awarded in 2000 – 55 years after the incident – when it was determined that Inouye and 21 other Asian-Americans had been denied the award because of racial bias.
Later, Inouye became Hawaii’s first Congressman. He moved over to the Senate in 1963, and remained there until his death at age 88. He was the Senate pro tempore —the chamber’s longest-serving member — and the person third in line to the presidency. He also chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee at the time of his death.
It was in that appropriations committee role that Inouye first learned of plans to construct a new National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, long known as the “home of the Infantry.” He was one of the National Infantry’s Museum’s earliest champions. After a visit by Foundation leaders in 2003, Inouye convinced his colleagues in Congress to award a grant of $8.5 million for construction of the new museum. The grant propelled the museum toward its goal of raising $100 million for the new facility. General Colin Powell cut the ribbon on the museum in June 2009 and it is now considered one of the finest military museums in the world.
The newly named Inouye Field at the National Infantry Museum is the site of about 100 Infantry School graduations each year. At the dedication ceremony Sept. 12, four Soldiers spread soil that had been taken from the spot in Italy where Inouye refused to give up the fight. The four – Pvt. Derrick Tamanaha, Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Zuehlsdorf, Lt. Col. Daniel Austin and Pvt. Peter Heaukulani – all were born in Inouye’s home state of Hawaii, and two serve in the same unit as Inouye, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. Also at the event, a bronze plaque telling Inouye’s story was unveiled. The plaque is mounted to a granite pedestal at the entrance to the parade field. At every graduation going forward, newly minted Soldiers will learn of Inouye’s contributions and march across the sacred soil as they conduct their pass and review.
When the field was first dedicated in 2009, it was consecrated with soil from eight battlefields in Infantry history. Soil came from Redoubt Number 10 in Yorktown, where Alexander Hamilton fought, and from under a tree at the base of Burnside Bridge at Antietam. Samples were collected from the WW I battlefield at Soissons, France, and WWII’s Normandy beach. Soil from Corregidor required the Philippine ambassador’s permission. More samples came from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each sample was spread by a present-day veteran of the battle or a descendant of one who fought there. Spreaders included descendants of Alexander Hamilton, Alvin York, and Theodore Roosevelt. Vietnam veterans General Hal Moore and the late Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley also participated.
Granite markers holding clear containers of soil mark the spots where the soil was spread. The battles represented there are the same ones depicted on the museum’s signature Last 100 Yards exhibit.
The tribute to Daniel Inouye will be seen by hundreds of graduates every week, as well as the thousands of friends and family members who travel from across the country to celebrate their achievement.
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park, a 200-acre tract linking Columbus, Georgia, and the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, is the first world-class site to pay tribute to the U.S. Army Infantryman and those who fight alongside him. As the only interactive Army Museum in the United States, the museum showcases the contributions of the Infantry Soldier in every war fought by the U.S. by offering immersive participation and engaging visitors in the unique experiences of the Infantry Soldier. The complex also includes a parade field, memorial walk of honor, authentic World War II Company Street and 3-D IMAX® Theatre. For more information, visit www.nationalinfantrymuseum.org.