WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a highly decorated World War II combat veteran who used his status as one of the longest-serving and most powerful Democrats in Washington to funnel billions of dollars to his home islands, died Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was 88.
Peter Boyland, a spokesman for the senator, said the cause was respiratory complications.
Inouye cut a singular figure in the nation’s capital when he arrived in Washington in 1959 as a representative from the nation’s newest state and the first Japanese-American elected to Congress.
A methodical behind-the-scenes operator who rarely sought the media spotlight, he was little known outside Hawaii and the halls of the Capitol. But his wartime record, for which he received the nation’s highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor – coupled with his reputation for a bipartisan approach to politics – helped him gain respect and influence from colleagues of both parties in Washington.
He will be remembered as a gentle giant in the Senate who worked hard to strengthen national security and improve the quality of life for our troops and military families, said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., in a statement. Coats is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Inouye was chairman.
After serving in the House, Inouye was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and began a career as Hawaii’s most important patron in Washington. Proudly describing himself as the No. 1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress, Inouye ensured that Hawaii, once a farflung agricultural outpost, received a steady flow of dollars to develop military sites and modern transportation, communication and education systems.
The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.