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Influential Hawaiian senator Daniel Inouye dies (+video)

Daniel Inouye, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the longest-serving senator, and a World War II hero, died Monday after a brief hospitalization. Inouye was a senator for Hawaii since 1963.

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In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson urged Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had won the Democratic nomination for president, to select Inouye as his running mate. Johnson told Humphrey that Inouye's World War II injuries would silence Humphrey's critics on the Vietnam War.

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"He answers Vietnam with that empty sleeve. He answers your problems with (Republican presidential candidate Richard) Nixon with that empty sleeve," Johnson said.

But Inouye was not interested.

"He was content in his position as a U.S. senator representing Hawaii," Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's Hawaii chief of staff, said in 2008.

Inouye reluctantly joined the Watergate proceedings at the strong urging of Senate Democratic leader Mike Mansfield. The panel's investigation of the role of the Nixon White House in covering up a burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate in June 1972 ultimately prompted the House to initiate impeachment proceedings against Nixon, who resigned before the issue reached a vote in the House.

In one of the most memorable exchanges of the Watergate proceedings, an attorney for two of Nixon's closest advisers, John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman, referred to Inouye as a "little Jap."

The attorney, John J. Wilson, later apologized. Inouye accepted the apology, noting that the slur came after he had muttered "what a liar" into a microphone that he thought had been turned off following Ehrlichman's testimony.

After the hearings, Inouye said he thought the committee's findings "will have a lasting effect on future presidents and their advisers. It will help reform the campaign practices of the nation."

He achieved celebrity status when he served as chairman of the congressional panel investigating the Iran-Contra affair in 1987. That committee held lengthy hearings into allegations that top Reagan administration officials had facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran, in violation of a congressional arms embargo, in hopes of winning the release of American hostages in Iran and to raise money to help support anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua.

"This was not a happy chore, but it had to be done," Inouye said of the hearings.

The panel sharply criticized Reagan for what it considered laxity in handling his duties as president. "We were fair," Inouye said. "Not because we wanted to be fair but because we had to be fair."

Born Sept. 7, 1924, to immigrant parents in Honolulu, Inouye was 17 and dreaming of becoming a surgeon when Japanese planes flew over his home to bomb Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, changing the course of his life.

In 1943, Inouye volunteered for the Army and was assigned to the famed Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which earned the nickname "Go For Broke" and was one of the most decorated units of the war. Inouye rose to the rank of captain and earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Bronze Star. Many of the 22 veterans who received Medals of Honor in 2000 had been in the 442nd.

Unlike the families of many of his comrades in arms, Inouye's wasn't subjected to the trauma and indignity of being sent by the U.S. government during the war to internment camps for Japanese Americans.

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