Washington, D.C. (Nov. 20, 2013) — President Barack Obama bestowed the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye with a Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 20.
The nation’s highest civilian honor is 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. The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.
President Obama presented the medals to 16 honorees or their families. Senator Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye accepted the award on her husband’s behalf.
“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 Hawai’i, 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,” said President 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,” said Hirano Inouye.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) joined President Obama at the White House as he posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Inouye, who passed away last December while still serving as a U.S. Senator from Hawaii.
“Mahalo to President Obama for recognizing Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s life of service with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors,” said Hirono. “It was a privilege to join Irene, Ken and so many others to pay tribute to Senator Inouye’s many accomplishments and dedication to Hawaii and our nation. 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.”
The award is one of the highest civilian awards bestowed in the United States, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, an award given by Congress in 2011 to the 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, of which Inouye was a member. Inouye has also received the U.S. military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.
Inouye passed away in office at age 88 on Dec. 17, 2012. At the time of his death Inouye was the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and third in line to the Presidency.
Inouye was born and raised on the Island of Kauai, in the territory of Hawaii. He was wounded in battle while serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the Second World War and received the Medal of Honor.
He would become a lifelong public servant after the war starting with being elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives. He was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union. He would serve in both the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate.
The medal ceremony comes one 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 Hawai’i at Mānoa. The center will serve as a living legacy and place of learning that inspires democratic leadership in future generations.
In addition to Inouye, other posthumous recipients of the Medal of Freedom include Astronaut Sally Ride and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
Other medal recipients included 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.
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.
Senator Inouye received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the 50th anniversary of the Executive Order by John F. Kennedy that established the Medal of Freedom as a way to honor civilian service.