American Heroes

Photo Credit: CQ/Rollcall

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.


  1. Great post.

    I read one account of Inouye on the battlefield that said during a charge to take a position held by the enemy, he lost his arm and it landed near him with a grenade still clutched in the palm of the useless arm. He saw the lost arm and fearing the grenade would go off when the hand grasping it finally came apart, he used his remaining hand to grab the grenade out of the severed arm and then flung it at the enemy. He then got up and continued his charge, shooting at the enemy until the blood loss finally made him pass out.

    Good grief, what a brave man and a hero. Like the saying goes, “they aren’t making men like him anymore.”

  2. Excellent post – also the reason the filibuster won’t be lasting. It’s meant to be a tool of last resort used by respecting adults, and the children have gotten the nuclear codes.

    • atlanta_advocate says:

      So you supported the nuclear-constitutional option during the Bush administration? Or do you wish for me to relocate all those old New York Times opeds talking about how preserving the filibuster was valuable to our democracy and protecting minority rights?

      • Actually yes, I did. I take the long view that on par, the Democrats/progressive party will have more victories than the conservative/Republican party with no filibuster.

        I actually support a version of reform that subtracts the votes needed after X number of weeks, for simplicity let’s say you subtract 3 votes each month. So you start out needing 60 votes – just like now, then after a month 57, then 54 then finally 51.

        Anyone who has a truly good argument can convince a majority of the country of their cause after three months of argument. Here’s my problem with the Senate. We should be ENCOURAGING a majority of senators – say 57 or 58 of them, to come up with compromise solutions to the problems that we have. Right now, you need a super majority of 60 to do anything, and with the parties roughly split there’s always some bad incentive (Todd Akin clone waiting in line in a primary) that is stronger than the desire to overcome a filibuster.

        When a big piece of legislation whether it is healthcare or judge approvals or whatever comes up, I want the John McCain’s and the Ron Wyden’s of the world to sit down and say how can we pass this today with 60+ votes instead of waiting 3 months and letting whichever faction that can assemble 51 get their way. Right now it is broken because it doesn’t work like this anymore.

        Ultimately, when some crazy tells Olympia Snowe if you compromise on healthcare you’ll lose your primary, I want Snowe’s response (or Saxby or whatever) to be let me go build the 65 member majority that can pass something that’s more to my liking than seeing if the party in charge can cobble together 60 to pass something they want with no input from the other side.

        That’s how healthcare worked – on big issues like that where one party is ultimately on the right side of history the winners will eventually assemble their legislative coalition to overcome the filibuster – and then the filibustering side will have no input at all into major changes.

        You prefer that way?

  3. Samuel says:

    One memory I can not shake is Inouye’s service on the Watergate Panel. Sam Ervin of North Carolina was the Chairman. Every time Ervin took a vote of the committee members, he asked them to raise their right arm to signify a yea or nay vote. I always considered this an offensive insult to Inouye as it happened often during the months long Watergate hearings.

  4. Baker says:

    Excellent post.

    Inouye and the other Japanese-Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team are the most decorated infantry unit in American history.

    A thought about Bob Dole pops to mind. He was pretty much the first presidential candidate who I paid attention to and understood some about what was happening (all I remember from 1992 is making fun of Ross Perot). I’ve routinely heard Red State Tea Party-types slander him as a RINO and terrible candidate. That fact is a near perfect illustration of the GOP in-fighting currently happening. I’m not ignorant of the fact that Dole was in the Senate during much of the time we were laying the groundwork for the current disaster we are in, but it’s so much more than that and I think to slander him is appalling.

    • atlanta_advocate says:

      The Democrats slandered him – and Jack Kemp – even worse than the GOP did. What the Clinton machine did to Dole-Kemp was awful. The same goes for the mainstream media. The Internet (or at least the Web) was relatively new back then, blogging practically didn’t exist and neither did social media, so they were able to get away with it. After the election, the same mainstream media types that trashed him during the election, Sam Donaldson etc. tried to make nice. It was nauseating.

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