President Barack Obama Friday offered a personal tribute to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, at a funeral service at the National Cathedral.
The service, which also featured tributes from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, followed a ceremony Thursday honoring Inouye in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
The senator will have a public funeral in his home state of Hawaii before being laid to rest in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on Sunday.
Obama said Inouye, who had represented Hawaii in Congress since the islands were granted statehood, had first inspired him as a child when the young Obama watched coverage of the Watergate hearings.
"Here I was, a young boy with a white mom, a black father, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii," Obama said. "I was beginning to sense how fitting into the world might not be as simple as it might seem."
He added, "To see this man, this senator, this powerful, accomplished person who wasn't out of central casting when it came to what you'd think a senator might look like at the time, and the way he commanded the respect of an entire nation I think it hinted to me what might be possible in my own life."
Inouye, Obama said, had shown through his service in World War II, at a time when Japanese-Americans were being confined to internment camps, that he believed in America even when the country did not believe in him or his people.
"That meant something to me. It gave me a powerful sense -- one that I couldn't put into words -- a powerful sense of hope," Obama said. "I learned how our democracy was supposed to work, our government of and by and for the people; that we had a system of government where nobody is above the law, where we have an obligation to hold each other accountable, from the average citizen to the most powerful of leaders, because these things that we stand for, these ideals that we hold dear are bigger than any one person or party or politician."
The Hawaiian senator, Obama said, was probably one of his earliest political inspirations.
"Of course, Danny didn't always take credit for the difference he made. Ever humble, one of the only landmarks that bear his name is a Marine Corps mess hall in Hawaii," Obama said. "And when someone asked him how he wanted to be remembered, Danny said, 'I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did okay.'"
Obama added, "Danny, you were more than okay. You were extraordinary."
The president also said that it was fitting that Inouye's final word was the traditional Hawaiian greeting and farewell, "Aloha."
"He may have been saying goodbye to us. Maybe he was saying hello to someone waiting on the other side," Obama said. "But it was a final expression most of all of his love for the family and friends that he cared so much about, for the men and women he was honored to serve with, for the country that held such a special place in his heart."
He added, "And so we remember a man who inspired all of us with his courage, and moved us with his compassion, that inspired us with his integrity, and who taught so many of us -- including a young kid growing up in Hawaii -- that America has a place for everyone."
Biden, who spoke in a voice laden with emotion, said that Inouye's departure marks the end of an era.
"Danny was a heroic figure in every aspect of his life," the vice president said. "This is a man who had to overcome prejudice against Japanese-Americans just for the right to fight for the country."
Noting that Inouye had displayed such valor as to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in WWII, Biden also said that Inouye's physical courage was matched by his moral courage.
"He was, in my 36 years in the Senate, more trusted by his colleagues than any man or woman I ever served with," Biden said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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