Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the nation's longest-serving senator and a decorated World War II combat veteran, died Monday at 88.
Inouye's office said the senator died of "respiratory complications" on Monday evening. His last word, according to a statement released by his staff, was "Aloha." The long-time senator had been hospitalized since early December because of respiratory problems.
Inouye had served in the Senate since 1963 and represented Hawaii since 1954, serving as the Aloha State's first congressman beginning in 1959. He served as the Senate pro tempore — the designation for the chamber's longest-serving Senator — and the person third in line to the presidency. He also chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee at the time of his death.
"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."
Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17, just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He served in a combat capacity in Europe and lost an arm in battle. He won the Medal of Honor for his service.
President Obama highlighted Inouye's military service in a statement, saying the country had lost a "true American hero."
"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 said. "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."
Immediately following Inouye's death, his colleagues took to the Senate floor to remember him. "His service to the Senate will be with the greats of this body," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Reid recalled a story about Inouye's son asking him why he had volunteered to fight in War World II, even though the U.S. had declared Japanese Americans "enemy aliens." Reid said of Inouye's response: "He did it for the children. That’s Senator Inouye."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) praised Inouye as a man of uncommon modesty.
"He had every reason to call attention to himself, but never did," McConnell said. "He was the kind of man, in short, that America has always been grateful to have, especially in her darkest hours: Men who lead by example and expect nothing in return."
Inouye's office said that when he was asked in recent days how he wanted to be remembered, he said: "I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did okay."
Inouye's seat will be filled by an appointment by Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D). He will pick from three finalists provided by the state Democratic Party. State law requires that Inouye must be replaced by a senator from the same political party. Inouye's seat is up for a full term in 2016.
It wasn’t immediately clear who Abercrombie might pick to replace the longtime senator. Both of the state’s House members are relative newcomers, with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) having been first elected in 2010 and Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D) set to take office in January. Gabbard is a rising star in the Democratic Party: She's just 31-years-old, and will be one of the first female combat veterans to serve in Congress. Hanabusa, a close ally of Inouye's, called the senator a "mentor."
"I am proud to have called Dan Inouye a friend and a mentor," she said in a statement. "His professional generosity and personal kindness have meant the world to me. I attribute a great deal of the success I have enjoyed to his willingness to share with a smile, and to guide with a gentle word. I will miss him, and I join our state and our nation in mourning the loss of a great American and a wonderful man.”
In a speech honoring his Aloha State colleague Monday evening, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) noted that Tuesday “will be the first day since Hawaii became a state in 1959 that Dan Inouye will not be representing us in Congress.”
“Every child born in Hawaii will learn of Dan Inouye, a man who changed the islands forever,” Akaka said. His voice broke several times as he paid tribute to his colleague.
Elsewhere n the Senate, Inouye's colleagues praised his service as both legislator and soldier.
"Danny Inouye was an American hero of the highest order," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), in a statement. "As a soldier he broke barriers with his heroism, as a proud Hawaiian he committed his life’s work to serving the people of his state, and as a legislator he earned the admiration of everyone he ever worked with on both sides of the aisle, including me."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Inouye was among the first senators he reached out to after he was elected in 2010.
"When I arrived in Washington, he was one of the first senators I sought out to introduce myself to in the first days after being sworn in," Rubio said. "I always admired his story and how he was the last of the Greatest Generation of Americans that served this country in World War II and then in peace in the U.S. Senate."
-- Rosalind S. Helderman, Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan contributed to this post