It says something of a man’s importance to his country that a U.S. president attended his funeral not once but twice.
Barack Obama did not speak at Dan Inouye’s service Sunday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, as he did at the National Cathedral service in Washington, D.C., Friday.
But Obama didn’t have to give another speech. The brief remarks delivered at Punchbowl by others were as powerful as the president’s eulogy.
They came from Inouye’s former colleagues, including Dan Akaka and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and those who worked side by side with him.
“Dan Inouye is Hawaii, and Hawaii is Dan Inouye,” said Akaka, who reeled off one memorable quote after another.
The service, the fourth and final for the late senator, also raised the curtain a bit on the circumstances surrounding his death.
Akaka and Reid expressed surprise at Inouye’s passing, though he had been hospitalized for 10 days prior to his death at 88 on Dec. 17.
“I expected him to be there long after I retired,” said Akaka, who steps down Jan. 3 after 36 years in Congress.
Reid said he had spent an hour alone with Inouye “just a few days ago,” saying that the senator had talked as if there were “a lot of tomorrows.”
Jennifer Sabas, Inouye’s longtime chief of staff, explained to the memorial audience of about 1,000 that her boss had “fought like a warrior” to overcome health challenges for the past six months — something Inouye’s office kept a tight lid on even as reporters sought more information about Inouye’s actual status.
According to Sabas, Inouye was living his last days as he had lived all his life: in control, peaceful and calm and “giving out instructions to the very end.”
Perhaps more details will emerge in the days ahead. On Sunday, however, the focus was not on how Inouye died but how he lived and what it means for the rest of us.
‘Hill of Sacrifice’
It began with a 19-canon honor salute that sent birds scattering and billowed clouds of white smoke into the soft winds. As the hearse was escorted by police to the service area on the Ewa side of the memorial, at the base of the great steps, no one uttered a word or sat back down in their seat.
After the casket was escorted in, retired Air Force Col. Walter Kaneakua explained that Punchbowl’s Hawaiian name, Puowaina, is roughly translated as “Hill of Sacrifice.”
If hearts weren’t already in throats by then, they soon were when Amy Hanaialii sang “Hawaii Ponoi” a capella. Even more moving, to my ear, was her performance of the “Queen’s Prayer” later in the program. Wearing sunglasses to keep the sun from her eyes and standing just a few feet from the Obamas and the Inouye family, Hanaialii soared and took her audience with her.
Just when it seemed things could not get more emotionally charged, Admiral Samuel Locklear III read John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Field.” The poem, written in May 1915 during the First World War, took on new resonance in the context of Inouye’s service in the Second World War:
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Inouye, who was awarded a Medal of Honor, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, will now rest in his own Flanders Field, said Locklear.
‘The Inouye Mark’
Reid, who traveled to Honolulu with other senators including Patrick Leahy, shared the memory of watching former Sen. Bob Dole, 89 and confined most of the time to a wheelchair, insist on walking to Inouye’s casket as it lay in state the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Thursday.
“‘Danny is not going to see me in a wheelchair,'” Reid said, quoting Dole who, like Inouye, had lost the use of his right arm in the war. When Dole saluted with his left hand, said Reid, “There was not a dry eye in the facility. A moment I will never forget.”
Never-forget moments continued to flow at Punchbowl. Akaka followed Reid. “He was a shining star of the greatest generation,” he said of his friend.
Akaka also said something that resulted in the only levity of the day. Addressing Inouye’s son Ken and the birth of his only grandchild Maggie — a birth that came very late in the senator’s life — Akaka relayed the story of how Inouye loved to say of Ken, “He finally figured out how to do it.”
Then it was back to more of those memorable quotes: “God bless you on your journey after this life,” Akaka said. “My brother, aloha oe, a hui hou.”
There were so many military personnel at Inouye’s funeral, on duty or retired, that it seemed almost as if they outnumbered civilians. Their salutes heightened the appreciation for Inouye’s contributions to the military. As retired Brig. Gen. James T. Hirai pointed out, “There is no aspect of military readiness today that does not have the Inouye mark.”
But another legacy of the senator was his instruction to others on the lesson of leadership. As Sabas, the chief of staff, said, Inouye’s instruction was to “make life better for everyday people — so simple yet sometimes so difficult.”
Both Sabas and Reid noted how fitting it was that in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Inouye’s casket was placed on the same decorated wooden platform where Abraham Lincoln’s body lay after his death. Pretty amazing, said Sabas, for a boy from McCully-Moiliili.
Inouye’s legacy, she said, “was not simply all that stuff” — the earmarks, the appropriations and the like. “Let us pick up the baton that he has laid at our feet.”
Cue the bagpipes and “Danny Boy,” a rifle salute and the playing of “Taps” performed by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. When four F-22 Raptors from the Hawaii Air National Guard followed with a missing-man flyover, it seemed that the soul of Dan Inouye was carried skyward.
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