Navy’s new warship highlights WWII Asian American hero

Daniel Inouye, in uniform. Courtesy photo

Naval Surface Group, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month provides the opportunity to highlight the achievements of our armed forces that identify as Asian American and/or Pacific Islander.

U.S. Navy ships host namesakes highlighting our heroes, and currently, USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) is the only active commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy named after someone of Asian American and/or Pacific Islander descent. That distinction is about to change.

In the coming years, the Navy will christen and then commission USS Daniel K. Inouye (DDG 118), named after the late senator and Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Inouye.

So, who was Daniel Inouye, and what is his legacy?

Inouye was born in Honolulu in 1924 when Hawaii was still just a territory of the United States. His parents had emigrated from Japan, and as a young man in a world where tensions were increasing with Japan, Inouye faced significant discrimination as a Japanese American.

Curfews were enforced, and discussions of internment camps in Hawaii were shut down only due to a heavy reliance on Japanese American business within the local economy.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Inouye attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army and was questioned about his patriotism. He was initially prevented from enlisting because of his status as a Japanese American. Instead, Inouye studied pre-medicine at the University of Hawaii.

In 1943, when the Army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted into the Army as a private.

Inouye was part of a group of individuals called the Nisei who volunteered, many from internment camps elsewhere in the country.

The Nisei was a segregated regimental combat team made up of second generation Japanese Americans. He shipped out to Italy in 1944 and was commissioned in the field as a second lieutenant shortly thereafter. Although his unit earned a reputation well before 1945, Inouye’s most famous moment came that spring.

On April 21, 1945, Inouye was faced with an uphill battle as his unit attempted to take the Colle Musatello Ridge, a German strongpoint in Northern Italy. He single-handedly used machine guns and grenades to thwart enemy forces under heavy fire, sustaining significant injuries to his right arm.

In spite of the crippling wounds, he refused evacuation, and remained at the head of his platoon until they broke through the enemy and seized the ridge.

Inouye’s arm worsened following the battle and surgeons eventually amputated it. His personal losses, however, came with a significant strategic victory for the Allied forces.

In 1947, Inouye retired as a captain in the U.S. Army. He then finished his studies at the University of Hawaii in 1950, ultimately graduating from law school in 1952.

And although his military service had concluded, his service to country had not.

Following his service in the military, Inouye practiced prosecuting law in Honolulu. Although Hawaii was still just a territory, he was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1952 and the Territorial Senate in 1956.

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, he served as the state’s first congressional representative, making him the first Japanese-American in Congress.

In 1962, Inouye was elected to the 86th Congress and proceeded to spend the next four decades serving as a senator from Hawaii, where he also obtained the distinction of being the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history.

His time as a senator was marked by supporting the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and Hawaii’s interests in Washington. He played an important role in the Watergate Scandal investigation in 1973 and the Iran-Contra affair in 1987.

Inouye’s legacy is well known throughout Hawaii, heralded as a man of the people. Recently, the Honolulu International Airport was renamed the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island is also named in his honor. The UH College of Social Sciences is developing the “Daniel K. Inouye Initiative for Democratic Leadership” program, as well.

Though Inouye passed away in 2012, his legacy will continue with the crew of USS Daniel K Inouye (DDG 118).

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Category: News