Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii has died at age 88 after battling a respiratory illness, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Monday. Inouye won the Medal of Honor in World War II—a conflict that cost him his right arm—and later became the first Japanese-American House member and then senator.
His last word was "Aloha," his office said.
"I rise with a real heavy heart. Our friend Dan Inouye just died," Reid said in an emotional tribute. "His commitment to our nation will never be surpassed."
Reid, who several times was at loss for words, said he had spoken to Inouye's wife, Irene. "We will all miss him—and that's a gross understatement."
President Barack Obama said in a statement on Monday that "our country has lost a true American hero."
"It was his incredible bravery during World War II—including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor—that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him," Obama said.
The long-serving senator—he was second in longevity in office only to the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia—served as the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. He never boasted about his military service, but his obituary in Hawaii's Star-Advertiser newspaper included this astonishing passage:
In northern Italy in April 1945 as the war in Europe was coming to an end, Inouye moved his platoon against German troops near San Terenzo. Inouye crawled up a slope and tossed two hand grenades into a German machine-gun nest. He stood up with his tommy gun and raked a second machine-gun nest before being shot in the stomach. But he kept charging until his right arm was hit by an enemy rifle grenade and shattered.
"I looked at it, stunned and disbelieving. It dangled there by a few bloody shreds of tissue, my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore," Inouye wrote in his 1967 autobiography, "Journey to Washington," written with Lawrence Elliott.
Inouye wrote that he pried the grenade out of his right hand and threw it at the German gunman, who was killed by the explosion. He continued firing his gun until he was shot in the right leg and knocked down the hillside. Badly wounded, he ordered his men to keep attacking and they took the ridge from the enemy.
Inouye died at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington at 5:01 p.m., his office said. The senator generally stayed out of the limelight, but he was well known in Washington as a staunch defender of lawmakers' securing federal cash for their home states. He also enjoyed some prominence as a member of the committee that investigated the Watergate break-in that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation and chairing the special committee that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal.
"Sen. Daniel Inouye was a man who rarely called attention to himself but who lived a remarkable American life filled with the dignity and grace of a true hero," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "He was a man who had every reason to call attention to himself but who never did."
"He was the kind of man, in short, that America has always been grateful to have, especially in her darkest hours, men who lead by example and who expect nothing in return," McConnell said.