Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), and others in the CNMI joined the nation in mourning Monday's passing of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a Medal of Honor-decorated World War II veteran who represented Hawaii in the Senate for five decades and was the country's second- longest serving senator. He was 88.
Inouye's passing is “a sad day for America and the Pacific,” said Sablan, describing Inouye as his mentor.
Inouye's office said he wanted to be remembered for serving the people of his state honestly, and that his last word was “Aloha.”
He was a senator for all but three of Hawaii's 53 years as a state. He had served as its first House member before that.
Inouye died of respiratory complications shortly after 5pm Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His wife and son were at his side when he passed away.
Fitial said that Inouye's passing “is a deep loss for Hawaii, the Commonwealth, and all of America. He will be truly missed.”
“A World War II veteran, highly decorated to include the Medal of Honor, and a reputable senator representing the State of Hawaii for five decades, the late Daniel Inouye was tremendously instrumental in the vast improvements of not just his home state, but also all the Pacific island territories. He was a true champion of the islands and a strong advocate for the well-being of all living in Hawaii and the territories,” the governor said in a statement.
Sablan said Inouye was “a great American and a great man of the Pacific.”
The delegate said he personally owes much to Inouye for whom he worked as a fellow in 1986.
“That experience and the example of Senator Inouye left me resolved to represent the people of the Northern Mariana Islands should we ever be allowed a seat in Congress. I hold that seat today holding Senator Inouye as my mentor for determination in pursuit of what is just and for service to the people I represent,” Sablan added.
He said Inouye lived his entire life working for justice and respect for all.
“Though he faced suspicion and prejudice as an American of Japanese ancestry, he gave himself fearlessly in defense of his nation during World War II. He bore the terrible wounds of that conflict, yet remained indefatigable physically and in spirit, a brave warrior for the powerless and forgotten,” Sablan said. “We will never forget this good man and great American.”
Fitial said he and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos extend their condolences to Inouye's wife, Irene, his son Daniel Ken Jr., the Inouye family and the people of Hawaii on Inouye's passing.
The governor also said the CNMI owes a debt of gratitude to the late senator for his support, especially since the CNMI and other territories do not have representation in the Senate.
“We certainly hope that the next person to fill the void left by Senator Inouye will continue his legacy of being an upstanding advocate for the islands,” Fitial added.
Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), one of the CNMI's longest-serving lawmakers, said yesterday he met and shook hands with Inouye once during a stopover on Saipan in the '90s.
“I remember he's a very soft spoken and a humble guy,” Torres said in a phone interview. “Our prayers go out to him, his family, and the whole of Hawaii.”
Senate President Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), the longest serving senator in the CNMI, separately said the people of the CNMI and other insular areas in the Pacific are grateful for Inouye's service in representing Pacific islanders in the U.S. Senate.
“He and Sen. Akaka are good senators representing our area. They're both good partners of the islands in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
Former lieutenant governor and speaker Diego Benavente said he met Inouye at least twice or thrice, including the time when Benavente visited Inouye in his office in Washington, D.C. in the late '90s.
“I visited him in his office when I was speaker. I talked to him about the issue of federal immigration takeover,” Benavente said, adding that Inouye's passing is a great loss to the islands such as the CNMI.
Inouye was hospitalized last week and had undergone procedures to regulate his oxygen intake, CNN reported.
The late senator won his ninth consecutive term in 2010 and was the second longest-serving senator in the chamber's history, trailing only Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During World War II, he lost an arm charging machine gun nests in Italy, earning him the Medal of Honor.
During his tenure, he served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Commerce Committee, and was the first chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976.
Inouye graduated from the University of Hawaii and the George Washington University School of Law.