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Memorial Day 2012

Memorial Day on Maui means one thing…attending the remembrance ceremony held at Makawao Veterans Memorial Cemetery.  Once again I found myself drawn to the veterans cemetery, but this time I was going for the pleasure of listening to Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye speak.  A World War II veteran himself, I was honored (and a bit surprised) that Senator Inouye chose to spend his Memorial Day speaking on Maui.  I assume with his resume he could have his pick of any speaking engagement in Washington D.C. or O’ahu (Pearl Harbor, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific), but the Senator spent his Memorial Day in front of a few hundred appreciative Mauians.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye

Senator Daniel K. Inouye, speaking at Makawao Veterans Memorial Cemetery

Whether you agree or disagree with his political views, Senator Daniel Inouye is the definition of a real life American hero.  As a seventeen-year-old medical volunteer he was a witness to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.  That harrowing day, and continuing several days after, he helped save lives and bring comfort to those affected by the destruction.  Labeled 4-C (an enemy agent) by his own government because he was Nisei (a person born in the United States or Canada whose parents immigrated from Japan) Inouye was not allowed to volunteer for military duty.

After over a year of petitioning the United States government, Japanese-Americans were eventually allowed to serve in the military (the Nisei heavily populated 100 Infantry Battalion became one of the most decorated fighting units in U.S. military history).  When that opportunity was provided, an 18 year old Inouye suspended his dreams of becoming a surgeon, left the University of Hawaii and volunteered to join the Army.  Joining the 442nd, a unit comprised of mainly Japanese-American soldiers and led by Caucasian officers, Inouye’s leadership ability was noticed almost immediately.  During his first year in the service he was promoted to sergeant as well as platoon leader.  He was later awarded a battlefield commission to second lieutenant for his actions in his part in relieving the “Lost Battalion” who were surrounded by German forces.

There is a story about how Inouye was shot in his chest during a battle in France, but the bullet was stopped by two silver dollars he had in his shirt pocket.  According to the story, he carried those two silver dollars with him throughout the war, but lost them prior to the battle that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross and eventually the Medal of Honor.

The following is taken directly from Senator Inouye’s Wikipedia page and describes Inouye’s actions on that fateful day:

As he led his platoon in a flanking maneuver, three German machine guns opened fire from covered positions just 40 yards away, pinning his men to the ground. Inouye stood up to attack and was shot in the stomach; ignoring his wound, he proceeded to attack and destroy the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and fire from his M1 Thompson submachine gun. After being informed of the severity of his wound by his platoon sergeant, he refused treatment and rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he also successfully destroyed before collapsing from blood loss.

As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker, eventually drawing within 10 yards. As he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade into the fighting position, a German inside fired a rifle grenade that struck him on the right elbow, severing most of his arm and leaving his own primed grenade reflexively “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore”. Inouye’s horrified soldiers moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye managed to pry the live grenade from his useless right hand and transfer it to his left. As the German aimed his rifle to finish him off, Inouye managed at last to toss the grenade off-hand into the bunker and destroy it. He stumbled to his feet and continued forward, silencing the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. When he awoke to see the concerned men of his platoon hovering over him, his only comment before being carried away was to gruffly order them to return to their positions, since, as he pointed out, “nobody [had] called off the war!”

The remainder of Inouye’s mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia, as he had been given too much morphine at an aid station and it was feared any more would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him.

That account of heroism and sacrifice does not need any embellishment or elaboration by someone like myself.

Inouye’s actions earned him the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.  Fifty-five years later, in June of 2000, Inouye and 19 other Japanese-American members of the 442nd were awarded Medal of Honors for their actions and sacrifices during World War II.

Even after losing his right arm, Inouye remained in the Army until 1947, achieving the rank of captain and eventually being honorably discharged from service.  Using the GI Bill, Inouye went back to school and studied political science, as well as law.

After sacrificing so much, tolerating extreme prejudice from his own country, proving his courage in many brutal battles during the war, Inouye came home and continued to give more to his Nation. He decided to go into politics after the war and, in 1959, was elected to the United States House of Representatives.  He took office the day that Hawaii became the 50th state.  He was elected United States Senator in 1962 and has been in office since January 3rd, 1963.  He has been the President pro tempore (third in line if the President is unable to perform his duties) of the Senate since 2010 and has announced he will run for a tenth, six-year term in 2016.

On Memorial Day, 2012, I was among the very fortunate to listen to this larger than life patriot speak about honor, duty, courage and sacrifice…and I will never forget what it meant to me.

Other highlights of the Memorial Day Remembrance this year were:

Mayor Alan Arakawa speaking after Senator Inouye.  His thoughts were very well presented as he spoke of sharing the past with the youth of today, so they never take for granted the freedoms we have fought for.  He touched on community, sacrifices and honoring those who paid the ultimate price of freedom.

William Stanton sang both the National and State Anthems.  When he finished the “Star Spangled Banner,” I was so confused and distracted I barely registered that he also sang “Hawai’i Pono’i“.  The lyrics he sang for the national anthem were not familiar to me and I questioned whether he sang them due to political correctness or other outside reasons.  I looked up the words for “The Star Spangled Banner” and found out that we only sing the first of four stanzas.  Mr. Stanton chose to sing the fourth stanza, which I can assume most people are not familiar with.  I have included the lyrics below:

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Another beautiful moment was the playing of “Taps,” by Ray Benarao after a twenty-one gun salute.  A flawless performance of a somber melody, very touching.

Maui County Veterans Council President Paul Laub was in obvious awe and appreciation of Senator Inouye when he spoke his closing remarks to the crowd.  He did a wonderful job conveying gratitude to the Senator for spending his Memorial Day in Makawao.

This is the second Memorial Day remembrance I have attended in Makawao (you can read about last year’s event here).  If you happen to be in Maui visiting at the end of May, or you call Maui home, I recommend you take a few hours to attend the ceremony if given the opportunity.