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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Daniel Inouye - Badass American Hero

If you don't know who Daniel Inouye is, you should because his is an interesting tale of overcoming adversity on multiple levels, from spiritual, physical, emotional and even political.

Inouye (井上) was born on September 7, 1924 in Honolulu, Hawaii, then a protectorate of the United States of America.What's interesting, is that according to the spelling of his name in Japanese, it should just be 'Inoue' (pronounced the same 'in-ooh-eh'). I guess it got messed up when his grandparents first arrived in America.

The key things to note are right there in that sentence at the top of the last paragraph. He is of Japanese ancestry. He would be 17 years old by the end of 1941. He lived in Hawaii. He is an American citizen.

Unless you are not a student of history or of the United States, you may have misremembered (it's a real word) that on December 7, 1941, the U.S. naval base of Pearl Harbor was decimated by the Japanese naval airfare that not only dragged the U.S. into WWII, but also made life for many of its citizens a living hell.

Few was the family that was untouched by the pain of WWII, but (and I'm not minimizing anyone else here), for those of Japanese heritage living in American (or Australian or Canadian) territory, it was even worse than being a prisoner of war, because as a POW, at least they knew what they were getting into as a soldier.

Thanks to already existent racism in those western countries, people of Japanese heritage were essentially rounded up from their homes - regardless of the fact that, in this case, were American citizens - and shipped to internment camps with naught but a few meager possessions, losing their jobs, homes and dignity.

While claims from the various levels of government, media and non-Japanese heritage citizens say shipping the 'Japs' was done to protect "real Americans" from possible sneak attacks or spying, the same harsh treatment of Japanese Americans was not felt by those of Italian- or German-descent - equal partners of the so-called Axis of Evil of WWII. Imagine placing the Italian-heritage (first generation U.S.) American baseball legend Joe DiMaggio into an Internment camp? Riiiiiight.

Inouye's father's parents (grandparents) arrived in Hawaii from Japan as laborers to work on the sugar plantations. His mother, also a child of Japanese immigrants, was orphaned at an early age and was later adopted by a Methodist Bishop. Daniel Inouye was raised in the Methodist faith and named for his mother's adoptive father.

So… basically, Inouye's father and mother arrived in Hawaii as youngsters, and when they had Inouye, naturally Inouye would be a citizen of the U.S. - able to vote on federal American politics when he reached the legal age.

Now here's the thing… until the Pearl Harbor attack (I refuse to call it a 'sneak attack' considering newspapers in Hawaii were printing news about it a week before saying they expected the Japanese to attack - see HERE), Inouye was actually serving as a medical volunteer at a Red Cross Aid Station at the age of 17, because he wanted to be a surgeon, which was why he was studying at the University of Hawaii.

At Pearl Harbor, Inouye was one of the first on the scene to treat the wounded. Doing his duty as an American to help his fellow Americans.

You'll notice that if you visit the Wikipedia entry on Inouye, it strangely omits what happened to Inouye and his family next between 1942 and 1943… mostly because it involves one of those embarrassing moments in U.S. history (of which, unfortunately - like in most countries - there are a few), this one involving Internment Camps. Many other on-line biographies also omit this period of time in Inouye's bio. I assume real blood and paper books do not!

Starting early in 1942, Americans of Japanese descent on the U.S. mainland were being sent to Internment Camps as potential security risks - regardless of how many generations the family had been in the United States, or even if they were American citizens.

Known as a Nisei (second-generation American-born children of Japanese immigrants), Inouye and others like him wanted to show their American patriotism and join the military to fight the enemy, but the U.S. War Department classified them as "enemy aliens" and unfit for service.

Again, few information sites detail it, but you can bet your ass that Inouye and his family were placed in an Internment Camp (I'll tell you about the piece of crap camps in Canada one day soon)… but eventually the U.S. War Department relented in 1943, and allowed the formation of a couple of battalions, including the all-Nisei 442nd Regional Combat Team - all segregated, to avoid possible racial concerns within the other units or simply because they were not to be trusted.

I would imagine that these all Nisei units would be sent in whenever cannon fodder was required. You know… why risk a real American soldier when you have all these expendable 'Japs'? Trust me… it was said, and it was done.

Now… because Inouye was still enrolled as a student in university, he was exempt from any military service, but he really wanted to prove he was an American, and quit his job as a medical volunteer and quit school and enlisted in the U.S. military, joining the 442nd.

Needles to say, the 442nd and others of Japanese origin were not allowed to enter into the Pacific theater to fight against the Japanese, and had to be content in battling fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in Africa and Europe.

Quickly promoted to sergeant he was made a platoon sergeant, serving in Italy in in 1944 during the Rome-Arno Campaign.

The entire regiment was then sent to France spending two weeks to relieve the famous Lost Battalion (the 141st Infantry Regiment that was surrounded by German forces), earning the rank of 2nd lieutenant for his actions there. They (the 442nd) rescued 211 men and suffered over 800 casualties.

It was there in France that during attack he was leading, a shot hit him in the chest directly above his heart, but did not penetrate INTO him as the bullet was stopped by two American silver dollars he had luckily stacked in his shirt pocket.

Needless to say Inouye carried those damn lucky coins around in his shirt pocket everywhere after that - until he lost them both on April 20, 1945.

On April 21, 1945 with Inouye and the 442nd back in Italy, they were expected to attack a defended area near San Terenzo, where the Germans were setting up shop.

In Inouye's own words: "I carried a Thompson machine gun. Not because it was accurate—the Thompson is about as inaccurate a weapon as you can find, but its got a loud noise, oh-ho-ho. If you are on the other side and you hear all this—Brrraahhhh!—it will scare the bejabbers out of you. And if it does hit, you know you've been hit.

"It's a .45 caliber slug. I recall hitting a German once in his ankle and his foot blew off, shoe and all—that's how powerful it is. I carried it for stopping power. I also had a sidearm plus a bag of grenades."

Now, recall that those two lucky silver dollars are missing.

On April 21, 1945, the fighting unit - E Company (aka Easy Company) - was told to hit a high ridge called Colle Musatello, and planned to hit it from the left side, while two other platoons were to make a frontal assault.

Those two front platoons became pinned down by enemy fire, but Easy Company (holy crap - that's Sgt. Rock's unit!!!!), still had a job to do, and took out an observation post and got up to the main area of resistance without the backup of the other two platoons who were still farther down the hill.

Easy Company crawled up to about 40 yards of German bunkers, encountering a crossfire from three machine guns - pinning the Americans.

Now you and I might duck and cover… maybe even retreat a little to find better cover, but not Inouye.

Inouye, lying on the ground, pulled out a hand grenade and was getting ready to pull the pin and throw it when half stood up.

"I remember being shot in my abdomen, first on the right side. The bullet came out in the middle of my back, and it felt like someone had slugged me. There was no immense pain or anything like that. I fell backwards and then I kept going until my messenger right in the back of me, the fellow who carries the radio said: 'By the way, you're bleeding'. So I stuck my hand there and sure enough, it was warm and moist. I took out my hand. It was all bloody but since I wasn't bleeding profusely and I had no pain to speak of, I just kept going. In my bag, I still had a half dozen grenades."

Inouye then attacked the first machine gun nest, tossing a grenade… and as they stood up to run away, he shot them with his Thompson, and then the whole bunker would explode.

He did the same with two more grenades on the second machine gun nest.

Now… fool me once - shame on me. Fool me twice - shame on you. Fool me three times - revenge!

For the third machine gun nest, the still bleeding Inouye used the rest of Easy Company to distract the Germans so he could crawl closer and closer to the bunker. Exciting isn't it? He got to within about 10 yards (9.15 meters).

Still on the ground, he raised himself up a bit and pulled his arm back to lob the grenade at the bunker. But a German soldier within it half-stood up and fired a rifle grenade at Inouye, hitting him in the right elbow.

"I don't really recall what happened right after my right elbow was hit by this rifle grenade. I saw the fellow pointing it at me and I felt the blast and I recall going for my grenade, prying it out of my right hand and throwing it with my left.

"My arm was dangling by a couple of shreds, so when I lifted it up, it was hanging like that. Just shredded, so I knew it was gone.

"First I was looking all over for the grenade, I thought it fell. And then I looked at my hand and I said 'Oh my Lord - it's there!

"I had pulled the pin, and my hand was back ready to toss it, so I knew it was armed. The fingers somehow had froze over the grenade, so I just had to pry it out.

"When I pulled it out, the lever snapped open so I knew I had five seconds, so I flipped it into the German's face as he was trying to reload.

"And it hit the target."

Ho-lee ship-dip! That is the fudging most amazing story I have ever heard. The only way it could have been more amazing was if he had tossed the grenade WITH his severed limb… but damn! Wow!

If I tried to throw a grenade with my left hand (and I am right-handed) it would go maybe five yards (4.6 meters). I might get the target. Might. You don't have to be overly accurate with a hand grenade. But it appears as though Inouye was.

Now… Inouye says he doesn't recall much of this, but apparently he then got up and continued forward minus his lower right arm shooting his Thompson at a fourth German machine gun nest, but more than likely because of the blood loss, he was an easy target, and took a shot in the right shin before falling and tumbling down the ridge.

Inouye - after falling downhill and leaning against a tree, apparently placed a tourniquet from his handkerchief around his arm. When the medics came and tried to get him out to a hospital, he wouldn't let them until he was allowed to call his sergeant to further coordinate his company.

Inouye says that after any attack, one should expect a counter attack, so he wanted to make sure his boys were placed in the correct positions to repel it. Only then when he was satisfied did he allow them to take him away.

When he awoke later at the hospital, he asked his platoon what had happened, and they told him all of it, with Inouye exclaiming, "No, it can't be. It can't be. You'd have to be insane to do all that."

While at the hospital, fighting off gangrene and then operation to remove a bit more of the destroyed right arm, Inouye needed 17 blood transfusions.

The blood he was given was from donors from the all-Black 92nd Division… probably figuring they couldn't be expected to waste any of that good old red blood from the solid, real WHITE citizens of the U.S…. that for the Nisei, blood from the still not-equal Blacks would suffice.

Inouye said that each time he was to receive a transfusion, the doctors would show him the bottle of blood he was to get, mentioning he could turn it down.

"Thank God blood was available otherwise I'd be dead." No sh!t, eh?

'D'ya want the nigger blood - no one here would blame ya if ya preferred death over having nigger blood in ya.'

Inouye, wasn't a racist, unlike many in the U.S. military, or in the government itself at that time.
Daniel Inouye chatting with U.S. president John F. Kennedy. I'm unsure if JFK has HIS hands in his pocket to make Inouye comfortable - OR is he mocking him?? I'll assume the former. Kennedy was a perv, not a bad president. Le roy, c'est moi. I am the king.
So… whatever became of Daniel Inouye?

Plenty of things… while recovering in a hospital from these wounds, he met a fellow serviceman, one Bob Dole who told Inouye that when the war was over, he would go to Congress.

Inouye beat him by a few years.

Despite the injuries, Inouye remained in the military until 1947, honorably discharged with the rank of captain.

Unable to be a surgeon now, Inouye got a degree in political science (me, too), and by 1953 was elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives and was made majority leader. He served two terms before being elected to the Hawaii territorial senate in 1957 (all before Hawaii became a US state).

In 1962, he was elected to the U.S. senate, representing Hawaii.

He was:
  • Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee between 1976 and 1979;
  • Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee between 1987 and 1995;
  • introduced the National Museum of the American Indian Act in 1984 and the National Museum of the American Indian was inaugurated in 2004;
  • He was Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee between 2001 and 2003;
  • Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee between 2007 and 2009;
  • Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee between 2009 and 2012.
Inouye was also involved in the infamous Iran-Contra investigations of the 1980s, criticizing the fact that there exists "a shadowy government with its own Air Force, its own Navy, its own fundraising mechanism, and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself."

Owtch. He was right, of course. It's like how that whole ugly Internship Camp idea probably came about in WWII 40 years earlier.

Military Awards:
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal;
  • World War II Victory Medal;
  • Bronze Star Medal;
  • Purple Heart Medal;
  • Distinguished Service Cross (for that crazy bunker assault that cost him his arm), it was upgraded in 2011 to the…;
  • Medal of Honor - given to Inouye and 19 other Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was believed that the U.S, had decided to right a wrong here, that these people were denied proper recognition of their bravery due to their race;
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously) in 2013.
Daniel Inouye receiving his Medal of Honor from U.S. president Bill Clinton.
By the way… if you noted that Inouye's political career, you might know that he was elected to represent the fine state of Hawaii as a senator EIGHT times starting on January 3, 1963 to December 17, 2012 when he died - still a senator.

U.S. president Barack Obama giving a speech at Daniel Inouye's funeral. I guess he was a Democrat - Obama, Clinton and JFK.
He NEVER lost an election in 58 years as an elected official.

He is the third-longest serving U.S. senator (following Robert Byrd - January 3, 1959 – June 28, 2010 - and current leader John Dingell Jr. representing Michigan who retired last week on January 3, 2015 - starting on December 13, 1955 - holy crap!). He was also elected as President pro tempore of the United States Senate, which actually put him third in line to become president should something have happened to those ahead of him.

Also... he had already made headway into running for a NINTH time. You have to LOVE his perseverance.
That's all for now… but damn I love that story of Daniel Inouye and Easy Company.

He WAS Sgt. Rock!!!


Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

4 comments:

  1. A couple of things. As a former Marine (Korea), I admire Inouye for his courage; I had in-laws also interned (Name = Igauye: each of whom was born in California!) and Dingell is/was never a Senator; he was in the House..Notice that each long-serving Senator (and Dingell) had a special constituency: Japanese in HI; blacks for Dingell and the KKK/racists for Byrd, a former Kleagle of the KKK, He should have been tarred, feathered and booted out of the Senate years before he died. As for JFK's hands, he often did taht to clench his fingers to minimize his constant back pain.

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    1. I did know about INouye and the Japanese in Hawaii, and Blacks for Dingell, but had no clue about Byrd. Yeesh. As for JFK - I had seen a few shots of him with his hands in his pockets - but didn't know why. Thanks for setting me straight. I suppose it was like Bob Dole and the pen for his non-functioning hand. Oh well... 3 out of 5... not bad for a Canadian, eh?

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  2. PS - my guess is that you married N. Your bio says you're married and few wives would permit the public adulations of on old girlfriend.

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    1. Hey Jim, how's it going. Yes, there are many reasons why I write fairly freely about Noboko. However, there are other reasons why I find it difficult to write about her. Let's just leave it at that until I get to where we are going. I appreciate you writing in, by the way.

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