Official Washington filled the National Cathedral on December 21 to honor one of America’s most distinguished public servants. At his death, Senator Daniel K. Inouye was president pro tem of the United States Senate and third in the presidential line of succession, the first Japanese American elected to both houses of Congress, the second longest–serving senator, and the highest-ranking Asian-American political leader in American history.
Senator Inouye received the nation’s highest honors in death as well. At the United States Capitol rotunda, his body lay in state on the Lincoln catafalque. At the Cathedral, his flag-draped casket was borne by a military honor guard into the great crossing, where he was eulogized by the sitting president and vice president as well as a former president, the Speaker of the House, and the Majority Leader of the Senate.
President Barack Obama, who was two years old when Inouye was first elected to the Senate, said the day he died “was in many ways a day like any other. The sun rose; the sun set; the great work f our democracy carried on. But in a fundamental sense it was different. It was the first day in many of our lives—certainly my own—that the halls of the United States Congress were not graced by the presence of Daniel Ken Inouye.”
In his very personal eulogy, Vice President Joe Biden, who served in the Senate with Inouye for a quarter of a century, said he often found himself “wishing I could be more like him. He’s a better man than I am.” Inouye had encouraged Biden to stay in the Senate after his wife and daughter were killed.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Inouye the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic service as a volunteer in the famed all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Describing Inouye as “one of the most remarkable Americans I have ever known,” Clinton said: “They blew his arm off in World War II, but they never, never laid a finger on his heart or his mind.”