US Democrat Daniel Inouye, one of the last World War II heroes in the US Congress and the longest-serving member of the US Senate, died on Monday aged 88.
The veteran lawmaker, who voted on some of the most historic US legislation of the last half century — including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — died of respiratory problems after spending recent weeks in hospital, his office said.
His last word was “Aloha,” Inouye’s office said in a statement.
Inouye, who was chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal spending, had represented Hawaii in Congress from the day the Pacific island chain officially entered the union on Aug. 21, 1959.
He was elected to the Senate in 1962, eventually earning the title president pro tempore — the designation for the chamber’s longest-serving member, which put him third in line for the US presidency, behind the vice president and speaker of the US House of Representatives.
“Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero,” US President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Fellow long-time Democratic Senator Carl Levin said Inouye’s death “has left a huge void in the Senate and in our hearts.”
Tributes poured in from Republicans as well, including from Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who praised Inouye’s status as a veteran of Pearl Harbor.
“An iconic political figure of his beloved Hawaii, and the only original member of a congressional delegation still serving in Congress, he was a man who had every reason to call attention to himself but who never did,” he said.
Inouye’s remarkable story as a US soldier in World War II continues to inspire. He was one of several Asian-Americans who belatedly received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000.
Second lieutenant Inouye led an attack on an enemy position on a ridge near San Terenzo, Italy, in April 1945. He hurled two grenades into a machine gun nest to neutralize the position, the biography accompanying his medal said.
“Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm,” but he continued to direct his platoon until US forces captured the ridge, the biography added.