A bust commemorating the legacy of Daniel Inouye (1924-2012), the first Japanese-American member of the U.S. Congress, is to be erected in his ancestral home in Fukuoka Prefecture in March.

The decorated World War II veteran, a towering figure in the U.S. legislative branch, was known as a strong advocate for the rights of minorities and justice for Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during the war, as well as for his efforts toward deepening Japan-U.S. relations.

The government of the city of Yame is planning to establish the monument to Inouye, the second-longest-serving U.S. senator in history, in a park planted with dogwood trees sent to Japan as a gift from the United States to symbolize the friendship between the two countries.

“Since many people don’t know about (his ancestral roots), we are glad they will be made widely known this way,” said Kenji Inoue, a distant relative of the late U.S. statesman and a member of the Yame city assembly.

Inouye was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sept. 7, 1924, after his father Hyotaro emigrated with Inouye’s grandparents from the village of Yokoyama in Yame county, now Joyo district in Yame city.

Inoue, 69, met with Inouye at the U.S. Capitol in Washington in May 2012, asking him to take part in an event organized by the Fukuoka Prefecture citizens’ association, or kenjinkai, slated for the following year.

“He told us he would be happy to join us if he was healthy, but he passed away in December” that year, Inoue said in a recent interview.

Daniel Inouye was the second-longest-serving U.S. senator in history. | REUTERS
Daniel Inouye was the second-longest-serving U.S. senator in history. | REUTERS

During World War II, Inouye served in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Japanese-American unit that went on to become one of the most decorated military units in U.S. history, fighting with distinction in the French and Italian campaigns.

His combat heroism cost him his right arm, crushing his dream of becoming a surgeon, but earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with Cluster for his service, according to the U.S. Senate website.

After the war, he pursued a career in politics and when Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959, Inouye was elected to the House of Representatives. In 1962, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate, launching his long and prolific career as a senator.

When Inouye, who championed the interests of people in Hawaii, died on Dec. 17, 2012, at the age of 88, he was serving his ninth consecutive six-year senate term.

Known for his keen awareness of his heritage, Inouye paid his respects to his roots by visiting Joyo and his ancestral grave in 1960, according to the municipal government.

“Back then, I was a young elementary school boy, but I still remember how he was greeted by local leaders and residents,” Inoue said, adding that people followed the congressman around as he visited the grave of his ancestors and other sites.

Inouye also received Japan’s Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers from the Japanese government in 2011 for his contribution to promoting friendly relations and mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.

When his widow Irene Hirano, head of the U.S.-Japan Council, visited Japan and met with Yame Mayor Tsuneyuki Mitamura in 2019, she told him she looked forward to seeing the monument, but was ultimately not able to realize her wish.

Hirano died in Los Angeles in April 2020 at the age of 71 following a long illness, according to the council.

“I hope the bust will become a symbol of Japan-U.S. friendship and lead to the revitalization of the area,” a city official from Yame said.

Inouye was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, the highest civilian honor given to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of the United States.

As a result, he became the first senator to receive both the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor, the U.S. government’s top military decoration.

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