Surface Warfare Magazine
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True Americanism: Navy's New Warship Highlights An Asian American Hero From WWII

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month provides the opportunity to highlight the achievements of our Armed Forces that identify as Asian American and/or Pacific Islander. U.S. Navyships host namesakes highlighting our heroes, and currently, USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) is the only active commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy named after someone of Asian American and/or Pacific Islander descent. That distinction is about to change. In the coming years, the Navy will christen and then commission USS Daniel K. Inouye (DDG 118), named after the late Senator and former Army Captain Daniel Inouye.

So, who was Daniel Inouye, and what is his legacy?

Inouye was born in Honolulu in 1924 when Hawaii was still a territory of the United States. His parents had emigrated from Japan, and as a young man in a world where tensions were increasing with Japan, Inouye faced significant discrimination as a Japanese American. Curfews were enforced, and discussions of internment camps in Hawaii were shut down due to a heavy reliance on Japanese American business within the local economy. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Inouye attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army and was questioned about his patriotism. He was initially prevented from enlisting because of his status as a Japanese American. Instead, Inouye studied pre-medicine at the University of Hawaii. In 1943, when the Army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted into the Army as a private.

Daniel Inouye was part of a group of individuals called the Nisei who volunteered, many from internment camps elsewhere in the country. The Nisei was a segregated regimental combat team made up of second generation Japanese Americans. He shipped out to Italy in 1944 and was commissioned in the field as a second lieutenant shortly thereafter. Although his unit earned a reputation well before 1945, Inouye’s most famous moment came that spring.

On April 21, 1945, Inouye was faced with an uphill battle as his unit attempted to take the Colle Musatello Ridge, a German strong point in Northern Italy. He single-handedly used machine guns and grenades to thwart enemy forces under heavy fire, sustaining significant injuries to his right arm. In spite of the crippling wounds, which included a shredded arm, a few bullets through the abdomen, and a bullet through his leg, he refused evacuation, and remained at the head of his platoon until they broke through the enemy and seized the ridge. Inouye’s arm worsened following the battle and surgeons eventually amputated it. His personal losses, however, came with a significant strategic victory for the Allied forces.

 

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In 1947, Inouye was honorably discharged as a captain in the U.S. Army. He then finished his studies at the University of Hawaii in 1950, ultimately graduating from law school in 1952.

And although his military service had concluded, his service to country had not.

Following his service in the military, Inouye practiced prosecuting law in Honolulu. Although Hawaii was still a territory, he was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1952 and the Territorial Senate in 1956. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, he served as the state’s first congressional representative, making him the first Japanese-American in Congress. In 1962, Inouye was elected to the 86th Congress and proceeded to spend the next four decades serving as a senator from Hawaii, where he also obtained the distinction of being the second-longest serving senator in the history of the United States. His time as a senator was marked by supporting the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and Hawaii’s interests in Washington. He played an important role in the Watergate Scandal investigation in 1973 and the Iran-Contra affair in 1987. Inouye’s legacy is well known throughout Hawaii, heralded as a man of the people. Recently, the Honolulu International Airport was renamed the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. The NOAA Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island is also named in his honor. The University of Hawaii’s College of Social Sciences is developing the “Daniel K. Inouye Initiative for Democratic Leadership” program, as well.

Fifty-five years after the battle to take Colle Musatello Ridge, Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions alongside 21 other Asian-American veterans on June 21, 2000.

In 2012, Inouye passed away, leaving behind a wife and one son.

Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated “Americanism is not and has never been a matter of race or color. Americanism is a matter of mind and heart.” Inouye embodied true Americanism, dedicating his lifetime to committed service to the American people. From enlisting in the U.S. Army in spite of intense discrimination, to serving in the U.S. Senate for almost 40 years, Inouye’s legacy is unparalleled.

His legacy will continue on in the crew of USS Daniel K Inouye (DDG 118); no longer limited to the buildings in Hawaii, it will stretch across many oceans, representing our nation’s interests– just as he did 75 years ago.Surface Warfare Magazine

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