Washington Post: He grew up planning to become a doctor. But in 1942, as a teenager barely out of high school, he joined what would become a revered Army regiment of Japanese Americans.
Two years later, on a battlefield in Italy, he destroyed three enemy machine gun nests even as bullets tore through his stomach and legs. A grenade nearly ripped off his right arm, and it was later amputated at an Army hospital.
Back in the United States, the young lieutenant was wearing his empty right sleeve pinned to his officer’s uniform when he stepped into a San Francisco barbershop for a haircut. “We don’t serve Japs here,” the barber told him.
Memories of such encounters remained vivid to Sen. Inouye, who in his political career spoke eloquently in support of civil rights and social welfare programs.
As chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Sen. Inouye was instrumental in passing legislation in 1989 that established the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall. Four years later, he successfully pushed for a formal apology from the federal government for assisting in the ouster of the Hawaiian monarchy in the late 1800s.
Widely regarded as a strong and uniting figure, Sen. Inouye was chosen by his fellow Democrats to give the keynote address at the party’s 1968 national convention in Chicago.
It was a period of unrest following the assassinations of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking not as a Democrat as much as a citizen disturbed by the violence, Sen. Inouye described a troubling “loss of faith” among Americans.
“I do not mean simply a loss of religious faith,” he said. “I mean a loss of faith in our country, its purposes and its institutions. I mean a retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship.”
He called for Americans to rebuild their trust in government — an extraordinary statement from a man whose people had suffered grave injustices at the hands of the government.
Sen. Inouye’s address was immediately overshadowed by the convention’s political infighting and by a violent police crackdown on thousands of opponents of the Vietnam War who demonstrated in Chicago’s streets.
It was a “remarkable speech,” political journalist Haynes Johnson wrote in The Post in 1996, “that drew little attention then and is even less remembered now.”
ACLU: He was one of fourteen Senators who in 1996 voted against the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" that discriminates against same-sex couples.