Daniel K. Inouye – Medal of Honor Recipient

Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye
Medal Of Honor Recipient
World War 2

By Joe “Ragman” Tarnovsky


Medal of Honor Recipient and longtime Senator from Hawaii, Daniel K. Inouye, passed away on December 19, 2012 and his legacy of honorable, courageous and loyal service to this Nation should never be forgotten, as well as the extreme injustice the government of the United States inflicted on him, his family and tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War 2.

Many of these Japanese Americans at the outbreak of the Second World War that were living in the United States and Hawaii were American citizens, approximately 62%, and they were forced out of their homes on the west coast after the Empire of Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and made to live behind barbed wire in internment camps with armed guards.

Approximately 2,000 Japanese Americans that were considered a threat to the security of the United States, mostly local leaders of the Japanese American community living in Hawaii at the time of the attack, were also relocated to the American mainland and incarcerated in the ten internment camps set up by the American government on the mainland.

None of the Japanese Americans living on the west coast of the continental United States nor those living in Hawaii that were classified as ENEMY ALIENS, committed any acts of sabotage or espionage against the United States, nor any other crimes, and the only reason they were forcibly interned was because of their race due to the actions of overzealous politicians and bureaucrats who over reacted to an hysteric segment of the American citizenry and some of those individuals were also greedy and jealous of the successful Japanese Americans, especially the white farmers that were threatened by the success of those Japanese Americans that were successful in the same business, agriculture, and resented their competition.

On that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, 17 year old Daniel Inouye was getting ready to go to church when he kept hearing someone over the radio yelling over and over again that Hawaii and Pearl Harbor were being attacked. Thinking it was a joke at first, something similar to Orson Welles’ October 30, 1938 CBS Radio Broadcast, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, where listeners Nationwide actually thought it a real alien invasion of earth being broadcast by Welles, but then looking out the window of his home and hearing explosions, Daniel Inouye realized that something was really happening and headed to Pearl Harbor to help. <h2 >He was a volunteer medical aide and was one of the first individuals to treat the wounded from the attacking Japanese airplanes, as he remembered years later, he was looking to the skies in between treating the wounded and seeing the silver airplanes with the red circles shooting their machine guns and dropping their bombs as he risked his own life to help those in need. <h2 >After the attack was over and wanting to serve his country, the United States Of America in the military service, he soon learned like all Japanese Americans living in Hawaii and the United States mainland, they were classified as ENEMY ALIENS and were considered threats to the security of their own country just because of their Japanese ancestry. The Nisei Japanese Americans, like Daniel Inouye, the second generation born in this country that were American citizens, were stripped of their constitutional rights and considered threats to the security of their own Nation. <h2 >They were dejected, depressed and denied their citizenship from the country of their birth, but they would not give up and history would prove just what these Americans were made of and how loyal they were to a Nation that at one time treated them like they were conspirators with the Empire Of Japan on December 7th, 1941 attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Insulted, hurt but being young, an American citizen and wanting to prove his loyalty, love of country and patriotism, Daniel Inouye and other Japanese Americans petitioned the government and President Franklin Roosevelt to be permitted to serve in the military of the United States to do their part in the war effort to ensure victory.

When the government classified all Japanese Americans as 4C, ENEMY ALIENS, that excluded them from being allowed to serve in the military. On February 1st, 1943, the United States government reversed its decision of not allowing Japanese Americans to serve in the armed forces and authorized the formation of an all Japanese American unit, one of which was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team which would go on, along with the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, to make American military history fighting the Nazis in the European Theater of World War 2. The future Medal Of Honor Recipient, Daniel K. Inouye, who would go on to represent the state of Hawaii in the House of Representatives and then the Senate after the war, would become a member of the famed 442nd RCT, whose motto was, “GO FOR BROKE.”

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was made up mostly of Nisei, they were second generation Japanese Americans, American citizens, born to first generation Japanese American immigrants called Issei and they had something to prove to others that doubted their love, loyalty and patriotism to America and prove it they did.

The 442nd RCT arrived in Naples, Italy on June 2nd, 1944 with Daniel Inouye and participated in the Rome-Arno Campaign. Inouye was a soldier’s soldier, remember, he, like every other Nisei were fighting a war against the Germans, but also fighting a war back home for respect and acceptance by their fellow Americans. Soon after the Rome-Arno Campaign, the 442nd RCT moved out to conduct operations in the Vosges Mountains where they rescued the Lost Battalion, which was the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, 36th Infantry Division and was originally the Texas National Guard. One of only two battles that Daniel Inouye missed during his time with the 442nd RCT, he credits missing that horrific battle to two lucky silver dollars he carried as he was back at Headquarters receiving his battlefield commission.

Knowing what kind of soldier he was in battle though by his military records and how he loved and respected his men and how they felt the same about him, I have no doubt he wished he had been there with them. Two previous attempts had been made to rescue the Lost Battalion by other units that were surrounded by German forces and both attempts were unsuccessful but on the third try, ordered by General John E. Dahlquist, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team broke through the German lines and rescued their fellow Americans, but suffered heavy casualties.

The “GO FOR BROKE” Regimental Combat Team of the 442nd rescued 230 men of the Lost Battalion and suffered 800 casualties. General Dahlquist was often criticized for his over usage of the 442nd in battle, and not by the Japanese Americans of the unit but by the non-Japanese American officers that were in charge of the 442nd, a criticism that followed Dahlquist for the rest of his career. If General Dahlquist had followed the advice of his senior officers in the first place and had not committed the men of the LOST BATTALION to the military operation that enabled them to be surrounded by the German forces in the first place, there would have never been the need to have the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to suffer so many casualties to rescue them.

On November 12, General Dahlquist announced he wanted to review the 442nd, to thank them for what they had done. When the battered unit appeared, Dahlquist grew irritated at their sparse numbers, ignorant of how much they had sacrificed. — Christopher C. Meyers, The War: Vosges Mountains (The Lost Battalion), PBS.

After the 442nd RCT rescued the LOST BATTALION and Daniel Inouye narrowly escaped death when a bullet from a German rifle was deflected just above his heart by those two lucky silver dollars that he carried in his shirt pocket during another battle, along with his battlefield commission to second lieutenant and becoming the youngest officer in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Lieutenant Inouye and the 442nd moved out to assault the Gothic Line, known as a strong German fortification, one of the last in Italy that was holding on and needed to be eliminated. Lieutenant Inouye and his men were conducting a flanking maneuver on the German defenses, when three German machine gun nests opened fire on him and his unit and pinned them down under blistering fire.

Taking the initiative, Lieutenant Inouye knew something needed to be down to eliminate the enemy fire or he and his men would certainly be killed, so Inouye stood up to attack, but was immediately shot in the stomach. Ignoring his own wound, he pressed on with his assault on the first of the German machine gun nests destroying the position with hand grenades and fire from his Thompson submachine gun.

Bleeding severely from his belly wound and being told by his platoon sergeant that his wound was severe, Daniel Inouye ignored the blood loss and the information from his senior NCO and rallied his men to attack the second enemy machine gun nest which they destroyed and then their leader, Lieutenant Inouye, collapsed because of the large amount of blood he lost from his gaping abdominal wound. Lying on the ground, Inouye still wouldn’t quit until the last machine gun nest was destroyed, so he ordered his men to distract the Germans by drawing their fire while he crawled within 10 yards of the enemy position where he could toss a hand grenade and destroy it.

Reaching his destination, Lieutenant Inouye took a hand grenade, prepared to throw it when all of a sudden, a German rifle grenade exploded on his elbow and what was left of his right arm was nothing but shreds of meat, jagged, exposed bone and just a bloody mess! He had already pulled the pin on the hand grenade in what was left of his right arm and hand and fearing his fingers would relax and drop the primed grenade, Inouye waved his platoon off with his unscathed left hand and pried the lethal, hand held explosive out of his mangled right hand with his left and threw it into the last remaining German machine gun nest and with his left arm and hand. He managed to get to his feet and stumbled forward to what was left of the enemy position and added one final burst from his Thompson submachine gun before he was wounded again, this time in the leg by a German bullet and fell to the bottom of the ridge where he lay unconscious.

Briefly regaining consciousness, Inouye noticed his men gathered around him, they were extremely worried and concerned about their leader, a man they all loved and respected and his only comment before the medics carried him away to a field hospital was for his men to get back to their positions because “nobody had called off the war!” Before he was taken to a field hospital for treatment for his destroyed right arm, he had been given too much morphine for the pain at the aid station so what was left of his right arm had to be amputated without anesthesia because the doctors feared if given to him with the excessive morphine already in his system, it would lower his blood pressure and kill him.

Daniel Inouye remained in the United States Army until 1947 and returned home the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, our Nation’s second highest award for valor, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He and 18 other members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, consisting of Nisei soldiers, second generation Japanese Americans, were originally denied the Medal of Honor for their bravery during World War 2, and it was determined it was strictly due because of their race.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Senator Daniel K. Inouye and 18 other Asian Americans that fought the enemies of the United States on the battlefields of Europe what they should have been awarded in the first place, our Nation’s highest award for bravery, the Medal Of Honor. Not only had the men of the 442nd RCT and 100 Infantry Battalion fought for their country in World War 2, they fought a second war at home for their own dignity, respect and acceptance just for the right to be treated the same as everybody else and to be called an American, which they certainly were by virtue of being born in the United States.

When Daniel Inouye returned home after the war, he entered a barbershop to get a haircut in full military uniform with his captain’s bara and a cluster of medals while visiting family in California, and was told by the barber, “We don’t cut Jap hair.” This great man of dignity, bravery and compassion thought about lashing out but being the who he was, left quietly. He earned a college and law degree after the war and then went into politics, serving Hawaii since 1954, first as a territory and then as our 50th State.

As a Representative and then Senator, Daniel K. Inouye never sought out the spotlight on Capitol Hill, unlike many that go to Washington, DC, and asked how he wanted to be remembered recently, he replied, “I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK.” He stood above many in the House and Senate, Medal Of Honor Recipient/Senator Daniel K. Inouye was an American Patriot, he volunteered to serve his Nation in a military uniform and risked his life for America when so many others in those two chambers go out of their way to avoid military service but love to wrap themselves in the flag.

I have a close, personal friend and he is an officer in the United States Army, a major, and is the personal aide to one of our best general officers serving today, both of these men are staunch patriots, both combat veterans of the Iraq War and because of privacy and security reasons, their names will not be divulged. I have had the honor and privilege of meeting my friend’s boss, the general, a number of times and this general certainly cares and looks out for the men and women under his command, he and my friend are both top notch officers and love their country.

This past summer, my friend told me he and his boss had to meet with Senator Inouye because the Senator was the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. My friend put succinctly and to the point about this American hero and great man, Senator Inouye, when he said, “Joe, you knew you were in the room with greatness.” America has come a long way from, “We don’t cut Jap hair.” Daniel Inouye and the men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the Military Intelligence Unit, all comprised of second generation Nisei, Japanese Americans, could have easily turned their backs on the United States after being stripped of their citizenship by an ungrateful Nation at the outbreak of World War 2, but instead they chose to serve in a military uniform and risk their lives, many of them paying the Supreme Sacrifice on the battlefield, to prove they were worthy of being called American citizens, a title they already had earned by virtue of being born in this country! Aloha to Daniel Inouye and all those brave Nisei soldiers that have passed on, may you rest in peace and your sacrifices will not be forgotten.

For the brave Nisei still with us today, thank you for your service during very difficult times and for showing us that the true meaning of being a patriotic American is what is in your heart and not based on a person’s looks or ancestry. America was wrong for what they did to you and your families and even though years later a $20,000 cash payment was paid to each internment camp survivor and an official apology given by this country, in my humble opinion, it was a pittance of a sum for what they lost and should have been done sooner but being the great Americans they are, the Japanese Americans that were interned during World War 2 accepted the compensation and apology with grace and humility and held no hatred nor grudges and continue to serve their country with patriotism, pride and honor.

Today, Febraury 19th, 1942, 71 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed for the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2 to internment camps. Approximately 62% of those people interned were American citizens.


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Joe is a Vietnam Combat Veteran, having served 26 months in the Republic Of South Vietnam, 10 months with Company A, 27th Combat Engineers, 28 August 1968 to June 1969, and 16 months as a crewchief/doorgunner with the 240th Assault Helicopter company on UH-1C Hueys, the Mad Dog Gunship Platoon from July 1969 to 22 October 1970. Joe graduated from Cuyahoga Community College in 1982 with a Associate Of Arts Degree and from Cleveland State University in 1986 with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology; he also accumulated 12 hours of graduate work at Cleveland State. He lives with his best friend, his wife, and they have 34 rescued cats, 7 rescued dogs. Joe has spoken at high schools and colleges for 25 years about PTSD, war and how not to treat returning veterans when they come home to America after fighting for their country.