Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"If you must die, die in honor."

Remembering Sen. Daniel Inouye

Inouye discusses honor and conviction at the beginning of WWII.

Lt. Daniel Inouye
Like many Japanese Americans during the Second World War, college freshman Daniel Inouye was considered an outsider, an enemy alien unworthy of trust or duty.  Over time and with hundreds of others, however, he was accepted into the ranks of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, also known as the Nisei Soldiers (Nisei meaning second-generation Japanese American).  Here, Inouye rose through the ranks and became the youngest officer in the entire outfit.

Surviving numerous bloody campaigns throughout southern France and the mountains of Italy, Inouye considered himself one lucky officer.  That sensation nearly came to an end in April 1945 as his united moved up the defended slopes of Colle Musatello.  Here, Inouye was shot through the stomach but still was capable of destroying two enemy machine gun positions with grenades and this Thompson sub machine gun.  Advancing on a third enemy position, his right arm was nearly obliterated by bursts of machine gun fire.  Prying a grenade from his lifeless right hand, he somehow proved able to throw the explosive with his left hand as blood poured out of him in streams.  Being wounded once again--this time in the leg--he collapsed from exhaustion and pain.  Inouye described the scene: "[A]ccording to the men  and according to my company commander, I went berserk.  I...[was] just firing into it with blood splattering out, and it was a horrible sight."

Later being hauled to a field hospital by German prisoners under guard, he faced amputation of his limb as a result of his wound.  In the interim, he had been given so much morphine that he was forced to undergo surgery without anesthetic.  At that point, "dying didn't seem like such an awful idea," he remembered.  In an interview, the Hawaiian officer recalled of his recovery:
"I ended receiving seventeen whole blood transfusions. I recall about, oh, I’d say, ten of them. And the other seven were given to me while I was unconscious or sleeping. But the hospital in our area had a policy, a good one, a rather strange but good one. Before they gave you the blood, they showed you the bottle and on that bottle was a label that had the name, rank, serial number and the unit. And so, here is someone with some fancy name, Thomas Jefferson Lee, serial number, rank PFC. 92nd division. Now, 92nd division was a unit that we were attached to in the last battle and they’re all made up of African-Americans. The officers were for the most part white. But the enlisted personnel were African-Americans and all of the bottles I saw, about ten of them, were from the 92nd division. And I, I assumed the rest of them were from 92nd. So I must have had seventeen bottles of good African-American blood. And so here I am."

Daniel Inouye received the Medal of Honor for his actions over a half-century later as he was a United States senator from Hawaii.  He passed away yesterday at age eighty-eight.  He, like so many of his fellow Japanese American citizens during the war, vindicated the notion that he was in fact a citizen worthy of rights and respect.  Immigrants in our Armed Forces are proving the same to this very day.

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