7 September 1924
Born on this day, 7 September 1924: Daniel Inouye, a war hero with an incredible story – also the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, the second Asian American senator ever, third in the presidential line of succession from 2010 until his death, and (until the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice president) the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history.
Inouye was born in Hawaii, and served as a medical volunteer during the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, he was training to be a doctor when the US Army dropped their ban on enlisting Japanese Americans. So Inouye joined up, and was soon promoted to second lieutenant.
While serving in Italy, a shot near his heart bounced harmlessly off two silver dollars in his pocket. And yet, this wasn’t the most miraculous thing to happen to him during his military service.
Leading an assault on three German positions towards the end of the war, Inouye was shot in the stomach. He carried on anyway, to destroy both the first and second positions. As his squad moved on the third gunner, Inouye prepared to throw his last hand grenade. A rifle grenade-wielding German soldier spotted this – and simply shot right his arm off.
Inouye’s hand grenade “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore” dropped at his feet. Due to nerve trauma, the lifeless hand still squeezed the grenade and stopped it going off, sparing his life. Inouye then prised the live grenade out with his remaining hand, threw it as originally intended – and destroyed the German position the second before they had a chance to finish him off.
With one arm and a stomach injury, Inouye still continued to fight, killing at least one more German soldier before suffering a yet another wound – in his leg, this time – and finally passing out.
Due to the loss of his arm he gave up ambitions to become a surgeon after the war and went into Democratic Party politics instead. President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted Inouye to be a Vice Presidential candidate in 1968, but Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey ignored this advice, and lost the election.
Inouye died on December 17, 2012 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. There are too many other awards and achievements to list here – read his obituary here.