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Clarification to This Article
A photo caption with this article about Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) did not fully identify Inouye's first wife, Margaret Awamura, who was shown with the lawmaker in a 1959 photo. The reference to her simply as Inouye's wife might have appeared to imply that she was Irene Hirano, the senator's current wife.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii's reigning son

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By Jason Horowitz
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HONOLULU -- On the morning of Sept. 2, the 65th anniversary of Imperial Japan's surrender to the United States aboard the USS Missouri, generals and politicians snapped to attention as the war hero who became the king of Hawaii boarded the battleship's deck.

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"Hello," Sen. Daniel Inouye said in a voice so soft-spoken that the luminaries had to surround him to hear.

The right sleeve of his boxy tan suit hung limply, a reminder that he lost his arm while heroically disabling enemy machine guns in World War II. A wooden cane dangled from a rope on his left wrist, and a lei of kukui nuts hung around his neck. He led a procession to the stage and took the center seat as the guest of honor.

"I was honored to play a small part in bringing the Mighty Mo to Hawaii," Inouye said on the podium. Through rimless glasses, he looked out at the uniformed crowd and "Sons of Aloha" choir and spoke in subdued but clear sentences. The battleships -- the restored Missouri and the adjacent, submerged USS Arizona -- "send a small, strong message to our allies, and throw caution to our potential enemies, that we can endure hardships, that we persevere and, yes, we will emerge victorious."

The same can be said for Daniel Inouye.

More than any other statesman in the history of these volcanic islands -- more than Kamehameha the Great, who united them into a kingdom in 1810, or Gov. John Burns, who led the political revolution that established Democratic Party rule here in 1954 -- Inouye, 86, has ruled over Hawaii.

As the federal funding he has provided has grown, his political opposition has waned. Hawaiians have voted for Inouye for 56 years, first for territorial representative in 1954, then for Congress in 1959. In 1963, he became the nation's first Japanese American senator. His uninterrupted stretch of service in the country's most exclusive chamber is the second-longest in history behind the recently deceased Robert Byrd, whom Inouye replaced as the Senate's senior member and president pro tempore in June. That position, ceremonial though it is, puts him third in line to succeed the president.

In the decades since Inouye last commanded national attention, much has changed. His pincushion cheeks have sagged into a stony, even dour, visage that adds to his regal bearing. His once grand, national ambitions to lead his party in the Senate have subsided, and he has shrugged off allegations of corruption and impropriety. He has contented himself with mostly parochial interests, quietly exercising power as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to deliver, above all, for his state.

But the clubby, bipartisan, backroom politicking at which Inouye excels has gone out of style. Both President Obama, another son of Hawaii, and his 2008 rival, John McCain, campaigned against earmarks. As the tea party movement echoes that excoriation, Inouye's unabashed advocacy for bring-home-the-bacon governance is jarring.

Although his decades in the Senate have brought him great stature, they have also winnowed his peers: In recent years, he has mourned Ted Stevens, his closest colleague and "brother"; Byrd, his predecessor as president pro tempore; Ted Kennedy; and Henry Giugni, his best friend and a former Senate sergeant at arms turned lobbyist. Inouye is the last of a generation of old Senate lions. And he knows it.

As he stepped out onto the balcony of his Waikiki apartment a few hours after the Pearl Harbor ceremony and surveyed the Diamond Head volcano's gray crater and the whitewashed skyline built with his earmark dollars, he reflected on his new senior status in the Senate.

"The facts of life would tell you," Inouye said, "that it is the final stop."


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