Sen. Daniel Inouye, the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history, was remembered Thursday as a man who gallantly defended his country on the battlefield and gracefully sought to better it during the 50-plus years he represented his beloved state of Hawaii.
Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell. The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and good will he generated over the years. Only 31 people have lain in the Capitol rotunda; the last was former President Gerald R. Ford nearly six years ago. The last senator who died in office and was accorded the honor was Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, in 1978.
"Daniel Inouye was an institution, and he deserved to spend at least another day in this beautiful building to which he dedicated his life," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Inouye's closed casket was draped with the American flag during the morning ceremony and placed atop the same catafalque that supported the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. His family and staff looked on as Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to a man whom Biden said made him proud to be called a senator.
Inouye was Hawaii's first congressman. In his early days in Washington, Inouye's modesty would never have allowed him to think he would walk the halls of the Capitol for the next five decades, Boehner said.
"He couldn't have fathomed all the good that he would do here, helping to build a new state, gaining rights and benefits for veterans, supporting agriculture, speaking out against injustice, becoming one of the most revered senators in our history," Boehner said.
Inouye died Monday from respiratory complications. The soft-spoken but powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was 88.
Before Inouye made his mark as a politician, he did so as a war hero who lost his right arm while leading his platoon into battle on a ridge in Italy. He later was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.
Biden said each person who has lain in state in the Capitol had a quality that was uniquely American. For Inouye, it was a moral compass that allowed him to do extraordinary things as a solider and as a senator.
"I've never met a man or woman in that period with as much physical and moral courage as Daniel Inouye," Biden said, referring to his years in the Senate. "I never met a man with as much loyalty to his country, to his family and to his friends."
After Inouye became Hawaii's first congressman following statehood in 1959, he won election to the Senate in 1962. He was the first Japanese-American elected to both the House and Senate and was serving his ninth term in the Senate when he died. As a legislator, his specialty was steering federal money to his home state to develop the kinds of roads, schools and housing other Americans had on the mainland.
After Biden spoke, three wreaths were placed around the casket, one representing the House, one the Senate and the other the executive branch. In the ensuring hours, a steady stream of tourists, congressional aides and other Capitol visitors took a few minutes out of their day to take in a bit of history and pay their respects.
Inouye's body will be escorted Friday to the Washington National Cathedral and will be returned to Hawaii on Saturday.