US senator Daniel Inouye dead at 88
WASHINGTON DC, USA - Democrat Daniel Inouye, one of the last World War II heroes in Congress and the longest-serving member of the US Senate, having represented Hawaii since the state joined the union, died Monday, December 17 (Tuesday, December 18 in Manila), at age 88.
The veteran lawmaker, who voted on some of the most historic US legislation of the last half century including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, died of respiratory problems after spending recent weeks in hospital, his office said.
His last word was "Aloha," Inouye's office said in a statement shortly after Senator Harry Reid announced the death on the Senate floor.
Inouye, who was chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee which oversees federal spending, had represented Hawaii in Congress from the day the Pacific island chain officially entered the union on August 21, 1959.
He was elected to the Senate in 1962, eventually earning the title president pro tempore -- the designation for the chamber's longest-serving member which put him third in line for the US presidency, behind the vice president and speaker of the House of Representatives.
Inouye has served in the Senate longer than anyone except Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in 2010 at age 92, after 51 years in the chamber.
"Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
"In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve," Obama added.
"But it was his incredible bravery during World War II -- including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor -- that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him."
Fellow longtime Democratic Senator Carl Levin said Inouye's death "has left a huge void in the Senate and in our hearts.
"He represented the best in us as a nation and as humankind. We have lost a noble friend, but we know that his spirit will continue to soar as it did in life, inspiring all who knew him or learn of his story to aspire to courage and kindness."
Tributes poured in from Republicans as well, including from the Senate's Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who noted Inouye's status as a veteran of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese fighter planes.
"An iconic political figure of his beloved Hawaii, and the only original member of a congressional delegation still serving in Congress, he was a man who had every reason to call attention to himself but who never did," he said.
Much of the institutional fabric of the Senate over the last half century became a part of the senator from Hawaii.
Inouye was already into his second six-year term in the chamber when its current youngest member Mike Lee was born in 1971.
"Willing to cross the aisle, Danny was a man of principle and decency who always stood up for what he thought was right," Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said in a statement.
Inouye's remarkable story as an American soldier in World War II continues to inspire. He was one of several Asian-Americans who belatedly received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000.
According to his biography that accompanied his medal, second lieutenant Inouye led an attack on an enemy position on a ridge near San Terenzo, Italy in April 1945. He hurled two grenades into a machine gun nest to neutralize the position.
"Although wounded by a sniper's bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm," but he continued to direct his platoon until US forces captured the ridge.
Inouye's death leaves Hawaii at an extraordinary loss in the Senate.
The state's junior Senator Daniel Akaka, just four days younger than Inouye, has served since 1990 and retires on January 3, to be replaced by congresswoman Mazie Hirono.
It was not immediately clear who might fill the seat of Inouye, with Hawaii's governor expected to appoint a replacement. - Michael Mathes, Agence France-Presse