A Dying Breed

Hawaii’s Sen. Dan Inouye is a member of a dying breed, or rather breeds. He represents more than one group whose numbers are rapidly decreasing. Inouye, a decorated World War II veteran, is now the longest serving member in Congress and third in line to succession to the Oval Office.

Inouye came home to the islands and served as grand marshal of the very kitschy, small-town Kona Fourth of July Parade. (He was not spotted kissing babies.) It has been reported joining him were approximately 20 of his World War II brethren. They say there once would have been hundreds. Inouye served with the 442nd Regiment Combat Team, the Nisei, a unit of Japanese-Americans. 

You may have heard of the 442nd RCT and thought. “Ok,” as we did. We learned from Hawaiian history buffs that this unit is sacred to the people of Hawaii. In fact, take sacred up several factors and you approach the importance of the 442nd to our off-shore citizens.

Though Inouye has clocked 51 years on the Hill, military veterans serving in Congress are dying breed. At its high point in 1977-1978, 77 percent of members had military service. Today that number is just 21 percent.

Inouye was born in Honolulu in 1924.  One biography says he came to the aid of the wounded during the Pearl Harbor attack. He would have been just 17. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  A battlefield commission led to command of a platoon. He lost his right arm leading an attack against a German machine gun nest. His wounds landed him in a hospital for nearly two years. Of his many awards, his Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Blue Max (Medal of Honor) in 2000. When Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, he was one of its first representatives. He has served ever since.

Where there were once a reported 10,000, the Nisei now number an estimated 400 to 600 living in the Hawaiian Islands. This living history will be relegated to books and film during the next two or three decades.

There is a bill to grant to Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Battalion and the 442nd RCT. It passed the House and has been in a Senate committee since May 2009. |

Wonder what Sen. Inouye will do about that?

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