Thank you, General Myers, for those inspiring words. And thank you for your strong leadership and faithful service to our country.
We are joined today by more than a few others who have served our nation: members of America’s magnificent Armed Forces, and many of our brave veterans, including the many former POWs who join us, and our special guest, Senator Dan Inouye.
I want to take this occasion to say thank you to Jerry Jennings, the President’s point man for accounting for America’s missing; and the dedicated men and women on his team. The recovery and return of our missing Americans can mean years of painstaking effort. And some 600 men and women, both military and civilians, around the world take part in everything from diplomatic negotiations and field operations to forensic analysis. They are tireless and dedicated. And through their latest efforts, the remains of fallen Americans have just been recovered in North Korea and are now headed home.
A special welcome to those of you who serve as leaders and volunteers of POW/MIA family groups. We appreciate your tireless devotion in keeping the home fires burning for those Americans still missing or unaccounted for. Your devotion to loved ones who have yet to return helps our nation to honor its commitment to those we must never forget.
We’re here today to honor your commitment and your courage.
We’re here to remember and honor the courage of America’s POW’s and missing countrymen who risked everything, facing the worst of war to preserve the best of America.
And we are here—above all—to reaffirm our commitment to keep the pledge President Bush has made to achieve “the fullest possible accounting of our prisoners of war and those missing in action.” The brave men and women who serve today—whether in Afghanistan or in Iraq or in other theaters of the war on terrorism—can do so with the full confidence that if they are captured, become missing or fall in battle, this nation will spare no effort to bring them home. That, too, is our solemn pledge. However long it takes, whatever it takes, whatever the cost.”
As General Myers reminded us, on Saturday, we observed the third anniversary of September 11th. I was with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Pete Pace and family members in Arlington Cemetery. We’d gathered at the burial spot for the Americans who died at their Pentagon posts just a few hundred yards away on that horrific day.
The serene beauty of their final resting place reminded us all that Americans are reluctant warriors. But, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, that September 11th three years ago was America’s call to arms. And as they’ve always done, brave Americans have once again taken up arms to defend our safety, our security and our liberty.
I recently met one young soldier who was wounded grievously in Iraq. Yet, he described how ravaged Iraq had been before the Americans arrived, and how much good he had been able to do in the time he’d been there. Then, he put his own enormous sacrifice into this selfless context. He said: “We’re fighting for everything we believe in.” He said: “Something had to be done.”
We have with us today a man who embodies that same love for America, that same selfless devotion to preserve what America stands for. As a soldier and a senator, he has spent a lifetime fighting for everything America believes in. When something had to be done, he was there to do it. Ladies and gentlemen, Daniel Inouye is a true American hero.
On December 7, 1941, 17-year-old Dan Inouye stood beside his father outside their home in Honolulu, watching as dive-bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. As Japanese Americans, father and son were especially pained and stunned—as the Senator would later recall, they’d worked so hard to be good Americans. Dan jumped on his bicycle and rushed to the Red Cross station, where he taught first aid. There were so many injuries, it would be five days before he would return home.
Dan Inouye wanted to do more. But because he was of Japanese descent, he was classified as 4-C—meaning he was considered a—quote— “enemy alien.” That made him—and all Japanese-Americans—ineligible for the draft.
Dan Inouye wasn’t discouraged by the pain of this prejudice. Instead, he signed petitions that went to the President, asking for the opportunity to serve. And in the meantime, he went to medical school.
In 1942, President Roosevelt authorized a combat team of Japanese American volunteers. Senator Inouye has recalled what Franklin Roosevelt said when he authorized the unit. It was a phrase, the Senator has said, “that meant a lot to the men of the regiment: ‘Americanism is not and has never been a matter of race or color,” said FDR. “’Americanism is a matter of mind and heart.’” And Dan Inouye proved the truth in those words. He immediately quit medical school to enlist in the Army.
On the day young Dan Inouye left for Army training, his father went with him to the pickup point. He’d been silent for most of the ride. Then he cleared his throat, and looking straight ahead, he said to his son: “America has been good to us…. We all love this country. Whatever you do, do not dishonor your country. Remember; never dishonor your family. And if you must give your life, do so with honor.” Senator Inouye later recalled: “I knew exactly what he meant. I said, ‘Yes, sir. Good-bye.’”
Dan Inouye shipped off to Europe, part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up mostly of Japanese Americans. As the Italian peninsula came into view, Dan Inouye asked some of his comrades what they’d been thinking on their last night aboard ship. Most said the same thing: they hoped they wouldn’t dishonor their families. Senator, Inouye would later say: “We knew very well that, if we succeeded, their lives”—the lives of the little brothers and sisters and parents back home—“would be better.”
The 442nd’s motto was “Go for Broke.” Its men would prove they were prepared to risk everything they had to win. Prepared to match prejudice with bravery of the highest order.
Senator, you once told me about a particular day in Italy. You sensed that the war was probably coming to an end, and you told one of your sergeants—for you’d received a battlefield commission by then, because the losses in your unit had been so great—you told that sergeant that the war was probably coming to an end soon, that he should be careful and not become one of the last men killed. What you didn’t tell me was that you never intended to follow your own advice.
The war ended in Europe on May 8,1945. Just 18 days before, on April 21, 1945, near San Terenzo, Lieutenant Inouye’s unit was ordered to attack a heavily defended ridge. As the lieutenant crawled up the slope, he was hit by machine gun fire. But he kept going, destroying one machine-gun nest, then a second one, before he fell to the ground. He dragged himself toward a third bunker, and as he was about to pull the pin on his last grenade, a German grenade tore into his arm. He pried the grenade out of his lifeless hand, and threw it at the bunker. Another bullet hit him in the leg. Finally a medic gave him a shot of morphine, but Lieutenant Inouye wouldn’t let them evacuate him until the area was secure … until he knew his men were safe.
Dan Inouye didn’t play it safe. He risked everything to protect his men.
Uncommon valor was a common virtue throughout that unit. Based on their numbers and length of service, the 442nd became the most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army. And Daniel Inouye was one of the most decorated heroes among them … to include a much-belated Medal of Honor.
Dan Inouye’s story of valor in battle would be more than enough to secure his place in history. But, it was merely prologue to an amazing story of service to our country.
The story continued when the people of Hawaii voted Daniel Inouye into office in 1954, as a member of the Territorial Legislature. In 1959, when Hawaii achieved statehood, he became its first member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1962, he was elected to the Senate. He is now in his seventh term.
Fifty years after entering public service, the man best known to Hawaiians simply as … “Dan” … is a legend on the Islands. I think Dan Inouye’s an American legend, too.
Maybe there’s a sort of irony that public servants from our nation’s farthest outposts—Hawaii and Alaska—stand at the center of America’s political life. I have had more than a passing interest in America’s relations with Asia, and I can tell you how fortunate we are to have in Hawaii a state that extends America’s reach so deeply into the Asia-Pacific. How fortunate we are to have a senator like Dan Inouye, a man informed by the wisdom of his years, who looks only to the future. He gazes west, sees possibilities, and understands how important our relations with that great region of the world are for the future of this country. And he has done great service to this nation to build and strengthen those key relationships.
And we are fortunate in how great a friend Senator Dan Inouye has been to America’s Armed Forces.
There is no one who understands better what the men and women of our Armed Forces want for this country and what they are prepared to give.
No one who understands better how important the unstinting support of the American people is for our troops as they undertake their difficult and dangerous work.
No one who understands better than Dan Inouye the kind of devotion to our nation the American soldier takes to war … and how important is the pledge we make to them that we will leave no man or woman behind.
Dan Inouye shares this nation’s commitment … that we will not rest until we have the fullest possible accounting of each American who has risked it all in service to our country.
We thank you, Senator, for your support of our men and women in uniform, including on this critical issue.
Fifty years in public service is an impressive milestone. And just last week, Senator Inouye celebrated another significant milestone—his 80th birthday.
He spent that day as he spends most others … at his desk, working for America and America’s men and women in uniform. It’s a privilege, Senator, to have you here to wish you, “Happy 80th Birthday.” ….And many more.
Ladies and gentleman, it’s an honor to present to you Senator Daniel Inouye.