Shortly before his death I met with Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii in his Honolulu office. My primary agenda in asking for the meeting was to share my then just released book, Renewal at the Place of Black Tears. The picture book tells the story of renewal and reconciliation at Pearl Harbor through my interpretation of the oil droplets that have been bubbling up from the sunken USS Arizona everyday since the attack in 1941. In the book I quoted the Senator from a 1991 New York Times article, “Fifty years of pain and hatred is long enough… The time has come for reconciliation.”

Visit with Senator Inouye
After several failed attempts to match availability in DC, his scheduling staff graciously slotted me in the day after Memorial Day 2012 when we were both in Honolulu. We met in a windowless room, feeling more like a home than office setting. Some stuff, but no distractions. His friends called him Danny. To me he is Senator Inouye.

As a college-aged Japanese-American (19-23) Inouye served as an officer with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (1943-1947). The 442nd was a segregated Japanese-American unit not thought loyal or trustworthy enough to service with white soldiers. Ironically, the 442nd ended up being the most decorated combat unit in WWII. As a young Captain he was severely injured, loosing the use of his right arm. Though long delayed by discrimination he was eventually awarded the Metal of Honor and later the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

What unfolded was unexpected and wonderful beyond what I could have possibly imaged. A memorable hour with a very remarkable man who seemed fully present, comfortably engaged and willingly vulnerable in a way I’ve rarely experienced in a first encounter or for that matter with anyone at any time.  

Here are several snippets of our conversation I thought might of interest, especially for my family and friends.

Conversation with Senator Inouye
I introduced myself as a third generation war-time soldier – the two before me served in combat roles, mine was a non-combat medical role. The sharing my family story from the Argonne Forest, the Beaches of Normandy and Brooke General Hospital and the mention of Battle Creek as my hometown created an immediate and profound connection. He had been  hospitalized at the Battle Creek VA hospital to recover from his own war injuries. Our conversation got deeper and deeper as layers our lives (places, people and events over seven decades) were peeled back and emotions were revealed to each other from the distant past to now. More about that later; for today some of those snippets…

  1. war changes everything for the warrior – everything – especially for those that are required to kill and see killing.
  2. Inouye loved the people of Battle Creek, especially the nurses.
  3. he formed life-long friendships among wounded veterans mending at the Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek; most notedly with two other future fellow senators, Phil Hart D-Michigan and Bob Dole R-Kansas with the later being THE catalyst for Inouye’s decision to enter public service as a politician.
  4. he had planned to be an orthopedic surgeon, but his war injuries prevented that. He told me he didn’t have a Plan B. Then Bob Dole shared a detailed plan about how he was going to be become a US Senator. He said it seemed like a pretty good plan. So he told me he decided to use it. Then with a big smile, he said, “I executed his plan myself and got there first.”
  5. flipping through the book, the Senator paused at one of pictures entitled “From Defeat to Ultimate Victory” and said we have yet to achieve ultimate victory. We agree. Japan and the United States have yet to formally reconcile.
  6. he gave me a tour of spacious office complex in the Federal Building. Some of the offices have beautiful views overlooking the Pacific and Aloha Tower. An interesting history – his office was a former CIA headquarters office (showed me one room saying “your cell phone won’t work in there”.
  7. I brought my camera. He asked his chief of staff who sat in on our meeting to take our picture. He chose the backdrop. By the way, the Senator shared things in our conversation his chief of staff said had never heard before.
  8. as we were wrapping up the brief walking tour at the close of my visit, we paused in his spacious main office, the one that overlooks the beautiful Pacific waters and the historical Aloha Tower waterfront area. The Senator shifted from upbeat tour guide to reflective statesman as he took me aside. With a quiet directness he spoke about the struggle he saw intensifying in already the most polarized times he’d ever seen as the best and worst of people are being revealed. Wondering about but not knowing which way America would go. I have no doubt about his preference. It’s one we share with his old friend, Senator Bob Dole; one that has nothing to do with partisan politics.

In reflection, as I re-visit this post now seven years later – this hour conversation with Senator Daniel Inouye remains one of the most vivid and memorable experiences of my life.

Better is peace than forever war. Better is peace than always war.

Adapted from The Armed Man, A Mass for Peace