Senator Daniel K. Inouye: A Story of Overcoming Adversity and True Leadership

[A Eulogy to a True Legend in the United States Senate and a U.S. War Hero Called Home]

By: Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

This article offers an insight into the essence of the kind of a man and leader that the late Senator Daniel “Kennie” Inouye was during his life of service to the people of his native Hawai’i and the United States. I personally had the privilege and honor of personally interviewing Senator Inouye for nearly three hours in his Hart Senate Building Office in March 2005 for my Doctoral dissertation on the success habits and leadership secrets of people who, in spite of adversity, discrimination, or difficult or life threatening challenges shaped their own destiny to become successful, effective leaders.

A Short Bio and Background of Senator Daniel Inouye

This is a short biography of one of the prominent leaders principal participants for my Leadership and Adversity research who generously contributed their time and insights into the phenomenon of how individuals can successfully overcome adversity and obstacles and even go on to become prominent successful leaders. This is Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s story of triumph over adversity and developing true leadership.

Daniel Inouye is the eldest son of Japanese immigrants who worked on the Hawaiian sugar plantations where Daniel was born and raised. He lived in what he described as a “Japanese-American ghetto.” He went to the local Hawaiian school, at which “the student body was 90% ethnic Japanese.”

As a young boy, Daniel accidentally fell and broke his left arm in a terrible compound fracture. The local doctor, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, set the arm. It mended, but not very well. In fact in his autobiography, Dan Inouye wrote, “My arm hung limp and crooked and I could barely move it” (1968, p. 49).

After two years of searching his parents, “contacted the best orthopedic surgeon in Hawai’i,” who reconstructed Dan’s “left arm and made it good as new.” That incident formed the basis of Daniel’s career goal: to become an orthopedic surgeon. He told the orthopedic surgeon who repaired his arm and restored it to full use, “I’m going to be a doctor, like you.” He faced racial discrimination when he was nominated to the local honor society in high school and was made to feel most unwelcome there.

While still in high school, Dan became a volunteer with the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Then the “entire world turned upside down” on December 7, 1942. After the bombing, the secretary of the local American Red Cross chapter called young Daniel into action immediately, having him “help with injured people who had been rescued from fallen debris, as well as the other wounded that needed treatment.”

Daniel shared that his life had been changed by the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese:

“The war came along, and the challenge was immense, not just physical, but emotional. My loyalty, together with those of my generation, was questioned. We were looked upon as enemy agents, and our friends of Japanese ancestry were placed in camps, without any trial. And that was something that, though I was fairly young, I felt had to be overcome.”

Though Daniel was of Japanese descent, he was “100% American.” The following year, when President Franklin Roosevelt finally allowed the Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) to join the United States military, Daniel attempted to enlist, but he was turned down.
Unwilling to accept “no” as an answer, he requested information from the draft board concerning his rejection.

The Board clerk researched the situation and found that Daniel was “working 72 hours a week at the aid station” of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Dan was told by the local Honolulu Draft Board, “You’re already making an essential defense contribution, and you’re enrolled in a pre-med course at the University, and Lord knows we’ll be needing doctors.” So taking matter into his own hands, Dan dropped out of the University of Hawai’i and quit his job with the Red Cross. Then he re-applied.

This time Dan's application to the U.S. Army was accepted. Inouye was bright and eager to serve. “In the military, there was another challenge, or obstacle.” Dan said, “I was the assistant squad leader. Then, the youngest person was about two years my senior, and the oldest was about 15 years my senior.” Because these were Japanese-American soldiers who all came from “a society where age makes a difference . . . where elders are looked upon with a bit more respect than the younger ones, it was a challenge.

So, I had to work overtime at that, to justify that position.” He was promoted rapidly, first to corporal and then to sergeant. Daniel and his unit were sent to Italy to fight. He earned a battlefield commission to second lieutenant while fighting in Europe. In one battle in Italy, near the end of World War II in Europe, young Lieutenant Inouye had his entire right arm essentially shot off.

In spite of the intense pain, he insisted on remaining at the battle scene, directing and protecting his troops, though he had tourniquets on his right shoulder and the stub of that arm. He was decorated for his heroism, receiving a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also recommended for, and later received, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Lieutenant Inouye was transferred back to the United States to receive treatment and rehabilitation for his wounds.
Senator Inouye told me, “I specifically chose to do my rehabilitation as far away from Hawaii as possible,” because he had always been sheltered.

He explained, “I had experienced only limited contact with anything outside my Japanese-American neighborhood.” He wanted to see how other people lived, and became cultured in the ways of the “hoale” [white] world in the process. “I underwent a ‘Pygmalion transformation,’ learning how to formally dine with silver and china, attending cultural events and meetings with as many different types of people as I possibly could.”

Inouye shared that his generation, “in Hawai’i, [came] from [Japanese-American] ethnic enclaves [who] spoke a strange brand of pidgin-English. So I felt that if I lived in a community where you were literally forced to change your way of communicating, it would help. And it did.”

Daniel specifically noted, “In fact, the highest compliment paid was when I returned home to Hawaii, and I opened my mouth to see how [my mother] was, she said, ‘You speak like a ‘hoale’!” During his lengthy rehabilitation, Daniel decided to finish college, get a law degree, and then enter into public service until his recent death on December 17, 2012.

He left the U.S. Army as a captain, returned to the University of Hawaii, and married a Japanese-American girl, Margaret Awamura. He completed “law school with a Juris Doctorate at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in just two years,” and then returned to Hawaii, where he “took and passed the Territorial Bar exam.”

In 1959 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the new State of Hawaii, becoming the first Japanese-American ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

Inouye was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, and has been re-elected every six years since then. Senator Inouye the President pro tempore of the United States Senate from 2010 until his death in December 2012. Dan Inouye was the highest-ranking Asian American politician in U.S. history. At the time of his death, Inouye at 88 was the second-oldest currently serving U.S. senator.

The initial prominent successful leaders that I interviewed, who’s stories are told and shared their secrets about how to overcome adversity were: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (UT), Monzer Hourani, the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (HI), Dr. John Malone, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow (Ret.), Dr. Blenda Wilson, and the late Zig Ziglar.

The data from the above initial eight research participants was materially augmented by eight other successful individuals who overcame adversity including: Jack Canfield, William Draper III, Mark Victor Hansen, the late Jack La Lanne, J. Terrence Lanni, Angelo Mozilo, Dr. Nido Qubein, and Dr. John Sperling.

Additionally, five internationally known, highly respected Best-Selling authors, and major academic scholars offered their peer debriefing comments, reviews and their agreement with the findings of my research findings including: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Dr. John Kotter, Professor Jim Kouzes, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.

Copyright 2005-2012 ©Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D. & The Leadership Success Institute

Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.
Chief Enlightenment Officer
The Leadership Success Institute
Author: “Leadership and Adversity: The Shaping of Prominent Leaders”
Publisher: VDM Verlag Dr Müller AG & CoKG ISBN 978-3-639-09841-9
[Now available on]

Author's Bio: 

Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.'s groundbreaking overcoming adversity and leadership research was published as a book in late 2008: "Leadership and Adversity: The Shaping of Prominent Leaders," by VDM Verlag Dr Müller AG & CoKG. This book has received great reviews which can be seen online at Amazon in the US, Canada, UK and Germany.
The 16 prominent leaders who overcame adversity and even major trauma, that were personally interviewed by Dr. Haller included: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, Jack Canfield, William Draper III, Mark Victor Hansen, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Monzer Hourani, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, J. Terrence Lanni, Dr. John Malone, Angelo Mozilo, Larry Pino, Dr. Nido Qubein, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow (Ret.), Dr. John Sperling, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and Zig Ziglar.
Five internationally scholars and best-selling authors peer reviewed and concurred with Dr. Haller's research findings in this groundbreaking overcoming adversity and leadership findings: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Dr. John Kotter, Professor James Kouzes, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.
Dr. Howard Edward Haller is a award-winning published author: • Keynote and Motivational Speaker to Corporations, Associations and Colleges • He is a Professional Member of NSA • He is a successful Executive Coach & Mentor to Corporate and Non-Profit Senior Executives in the US & Canada • He is Expert on Leadership, Overcoming Adversity and Personal Success • He is a US Presidential National Award and Prize Winning Essayist. • He is an Accomplished Screenwriter, Television writer & Member of the WGAw. • Dr. Haller is a major expert on Overcoming Adversity and Leadership.
Dr. Howard Edward Haller is a well-respected academic writer, editor, scholar and major University Trustee, University Graduate Business School Professor and past President of University Board of Trustees.
Dr. Haller was selected and appointed a member of the Editorial Peer Review Board of the prestigious “International Journal of Servant Leadership,” along with world renowned leadership scholars & best-selling authors.