They just can’t say enough about the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, and you know what? He’s worthy of every word of praise tossed his way — and ironically, he didn’t really want the acclaim or the attention.
Inouye was one of 16 Americans awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday. President Barack Obama presented Inouye’s medal to his widow, Irene Hirano Inouye at a White House ceremony.
Inouye was also presented the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton in 2000 for his service in World War II. Earlier this year, The Kilauea Point Lighthouse was renamed the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse in his honor.
The White House East Room was filled with friends and family of the medal recipients, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and filmmaker Steven Spielberg. First lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill were also in attendance.
The medal ceremony came a day after the Daniel K. Inouye Institute announced the selection of an architectural design team for the Daniel K. Inouye Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The center will serve as a living legacy and place of learning that inspires democratic leadership in future generations.
What, you ask, is the Medal of Freedom?
It is our nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Other medal recipients include President Bill Clinton; talk-show magnate Oprah Winfrey; Feminist writer and equal-rights activist Gloria Steinem; Country music legend Loretta Lynn; Chicago Cubs baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks; Veteran Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman; Former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina; Jazz icon Arturo Sandoval; Former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith; Minister and civil rights activist Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian; and Judge Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
Other posthumous recipients of the Medal of Freedom include Astronaut Sally Ride and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
Why did Inouye, who died Dec. 17, 2012, at the age of 88 following a distinguished career, deserve it?
Perhaps those who knew and worked with him can explain it best.
• “As the second longest serving senator in American history, he showed a generation of young people, including one kid with a funny name growing up in Hawaii, who noticed that there was somebody during those hearings in Washington that didn’t look like everybody else, which meant that I had a chance to do something important too.” — President Barack Obama.
• “For Dan, it was never about the honors, it was never about the namings. But I think it is wonderful that people learn his story. His story is so remarkable. So given the Medal of Freedom, I hope it is an inspiration for the next generations, an inspiration for Americans.” — Hirano Inouye.
• “The Senator gave everything in his devotion to Hawaii Nei and our nation, a fact now recognized by two United States Presidents and two of our nation’s highest honors. I can think of no one more deserving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His service was the epitome of valor and the Aloha Spirit.
“The people of Hawaii cherish Dan’s legacy of courage, integrity and service, and we offer our deepest gratitude to the Inouye family.” — Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
• “Although he carried himself with humility and often deflected credit, there is no doubt his work laid the foundation of modern Hawaii. While no one will ever replace Senator Inouye, we can all honor his legacy by dedicating ourselves to serving and strengthening our communities and nation.” — Sen. Mazie Hirono.
We miss you, Daniel. But rest assured, your spirit, and your legacy, lives on. We hope, too, you don’t mind all the tributes. You earned them.