Senator Dan Inouye
Senator Dan Inouye of Hawai'i passed away on my birthday, December 17, 2012. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery during WWII, when he signed up for the Army despite seeing people of his ethnicity forced into internment camps. How did he get the Medal of Honor? I was told the following story: Inouye lobbed two grenades and took out two enemy machine gun nests before a German soldier shot off most of his arm, the hand holding a third grenade. Inouye used his good hand to take the grenade out of his useless hand, and threw the grenade at the enemy, not allowing his fellows to rescue him until he got the third grenade safely out of the way.
The story I heard left out some details: before he threw the first grenade, he was shot in the stomach. After he threw the third grenade, he continued to fire his weapon one-handed until he was shot in the leg. "Badass" doesn't begin to describe him.
Inouye was a champion for wounded veterans, Native Americans, and sensible regulation of firearms. His words on gun control: "Our country needs a national gun law. We should limit the number and type of weapons an individual is allowed to own and they ought to be catalogued in a national database that every arms dealer has to check before making a sale. If somebody carries an assault rifle, like the kind I carried while fighting in Europe during World War II, they are not going duck hunting; they are going manhunting."
Inouye was also a champion for LGBT rights. From Carolyn Golujuch, founding member of PFLAG-Oahu:
"During the 2012 Hawaii Reception for Senator Dan Inouye in Charlotte, North Carolina last September, I was touched when the Senator held my hand and told me that he was friends with a brave gay soldier in the battlefields of WWII who he considered the bravest man he ever knew... Senator Inouye said that he had made arrangements to be buried next to this soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Then he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "You know I can arrange things like this." I smiled as I was so surprised at his message for me. Others were standing around but I don't know if they were as touched as I was and remain to this day. Senator Dan Inouye was an amazing person on so many levels."
This remarkable human being, whose bravery on the battlefield was legendary, praised a Gay soldier as the bravest man he ever knew. I wish I knew who Inouye was talking about.
We may never know who that Gay soldier was. Inouye's arrangements for an Arlington Cemetery burial were cancelled. The Senator will be buried in Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu. Regardless of where his mortal remains rest, his legacy as a hero, humanitarian, and LGBT ally are the greatest testaments to the man, not a headstone, no matter how beautifully crafted.
I now have another ritual to add to whatever celebrations I enjoy on the day of my birth. I will go to Inouye's grave in Punchbowl (it's right up the street) and pay my respects.