WASHINGTON — Sen. Daniel Inouye, the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history, was remembered Thursday as a man who gallantly defended his country on the battlefield and gracefully sought to better it during the 50-plus years he represented his beloved state of Hawaii.
Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell. The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and goodwill he generated over the years. Only 31 people have lain in the Capitol rotunda; the last was former President Gerald R. Ford nearly six years ago. The last senator so honored was Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota in 1978.
"Daniel Inouye was an institution, and he deserved to spend at least another day in this beautiful building where he dedicated his life," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Inouye's closed casket was draped with the American flag during the morning ceremony and placed atop the same catafalque that supported the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. His family and staff looked on as Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to a man who Biden said made him proud to be called a senator.
Boehner noted that Inouye was Hawaii's first congressman. In his early days in Washington, Inouye's modesty would never have allowed him to think he would walk the halls of the Capitol for the next five decades.
"He couldn't have fathomed all the good that he would do here, helping to build a new state, gaining rights benefits for veterans, supporting agriculture, speaking out against injustice, becoming one of the most revered senators in our history," Boehner said.
Inouye died Monday from respiratory complications. The soft-spoken but powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was 88.
Before Inouye made his mark as a politician, he did so as a war hero who lost his right arm while leading his platoon into battle on a ridge in Italy. He eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.
Biden recalled how Inouye supported his own first run for the Senate and was one of the first to comfort him and try to raise his spirits when his wife and baby daughter died in an automobile accident shortly after his election. Biden recalled being moved that a man who had lost his right arm so eagerly embraced life and sought to make others feel better.
"I've never met a man or woman with as much physical and mental courage as Daniel Inouye," Biden said.
After Inouye became Hawaii's first congressman following statehood in 1959, he won election to the Senate in 1962. He was the first Japanese-American elected to both the House and Senate and was serving his ninth term in the Senate when he died. As a legislator, his specialty was steering federal money to his home state to develop the kinds of roads, schools and housing other Americans had on the mainland.
Inouye's body will be escorted Friday to the Washington National Cathedral and will be returned to Hawaii on Saturday.