Today’s Courier Herald Column:
American lost a hero this week. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died suddenly after a brief illness at the age of 88. Inouye served Hawaii as its first Congressman when it became a state in 1959 before moving over to the Senate in 1962 and enjoying a 50 year career there. He was our country’s second longest serving Senator in the history of the institution.
Longevity, however, is not what earns Inouye the title of hero. A World War II combat veteran, he lost his right arm leading his platoon in a battle to win a ridge in Italy. He is the holder of the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military honor.
Inouye’s was honored by the Senate by lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Thursday night, which provided at least one powerful image that deserves a moment of its own reflection. Senator Bob Dole, also a World War II combat veteran with permanent injuries to mark his service, was there to honor his longtime friend.
Dole first met Inouye as a patient at Michigan’s Percy Jones Army Hospital where they were both recovering from their wounds along with the future Senator Philip A. Hart. It was there that Dole first told Inouye of his intentions to run for Congress when we was healthy and able. Inouye, who was elected first, later joked that he got to Congress on the Bob Dole plan. The hospital is now known as the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in honor of the three men.
Dole, now 89, frequently uses a wheelchair to move about. On Thursday evening, however, he insisted on walking through the Capitol to salute the casket of his friend. The image of one WWII soldier saluting another’s casket is powerful enough. These two in particular made life’s journey of the greatest generation from the battlefield to the preeminent positions of power.
Worth noting is that throughout their political careers, the two men were from separate political parties. Inouye was a lifelong Democrat. Dole is the embodiment of the Republican establishment. Two men who fought for and almost died for their country on the battlefield, and recovered from their wounds side by side, ended up spending roughly a half of a century on opposite political sides for their resulting careers. Yet they remained close, personal friends.
In a day an age when so many used “politics as war” analogies, the image of Bob Dole saluting the casket of his longtime friend and political adversary should not be lost on us. Both shared a deep love of country. They risked their lives and permanently sacrificed their bodies for it. They both used their experiences to work the next five decades toward making the country a better place, but from opposite opinions on how to make that happen. In the end, a final salute from Dole with his scarred right hand clearly visible, is a picture we should not forget.
We have constant reminders that we are a divided country. As we approach the most giving time of the year, we have a Congress and a President that can’t seem to get together to execute their most basic functions of taxing and spending. We just finished an election cycle that was driven more by increasing negative suspicions of candidates than trying to debate and determine the best policy approaches to solve our country’s very real problems. We believe those of the other party are our enemy.
Bob Dole and Daniel Inouye understood what an enemy was. They also understood friendship. And country. They disagreed politically, but always put country first.
Daniel Inouye was a proud Democrat. Bob Dole is a proud Republican. Both of them learned priorities and perspective in a way much harder than most of us will ever have to realize.
Bob Dole and Daniel Inouye shared common ground on the battlefield, in a hospital, and in the U.S. Senate. Those looking to solve the country’s problems should look at them as an example, not as a footnote or exception.
We are a people who share common ground, but often differ politically. It is time for us to remember the struggles we’ve been through together and focus on what we share in common, rather than what divides us among ideology.