Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie told hundreds of people gathered Saturday night that Inouye went from being considered undesirable as a Japanese-American at the start of World War II to gaining the respect of the country's leaders in Washington.
"Rest easy, you are at home with us in paradise," Abercrombie said. Abercrombie's remarks toward the end of an hour-long ceremony marked the start of seven hours of public visitation.
Inouye's closed casket, covered with an American flag, was escorted in by seven pallbearers along a red carpet to the center of the Capitol courtyard.
After the ceremony, it was placed in a large tent with the U.S. and Hawaii flags behind it, as people lined up outside to pay their respect, starting with Inouye's wife, Irene Hirano Inouye.
Inouye is just one of several Hawaii icons to lie in state at the Capitol in Honolulu. Sen. Hiram Fong was honored the same way in 2004, as was U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink in 2002 and singer Israel Kamakawiwoole in 1997.
"The Senator was the quintessential man of his word," said state House Speaker Calvin Say, who said Inouye understood that trust is the strongest currency in politics.
Say said Inouye let his work do the talking for him.
The 88-year-old World War II hero and federal lawmaker of more than five decades died Monday.
Inouye was a high school senior in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941, when he watched dozens of Japanese planes fly toward Pearl Harbor and other Oahu military bases to begin a bombing that changed the course of world events.
He volunteered for a special U.S. Army unit of Japanese-Americans – including several who attended the Saturday night ceremony. Inouye lost his right arm in a battle with Germans in Italy. That scratched his dream of becoming a surgeon. He went to law school and into politics instead, becoming a congressman and the first Japanese-American elected to the Senate.
He became known as a solo economic power in his home state as part of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he steered federal money toward Hawaii to build roads, schools and housing.
Colleagues and aides lined the rotunda of the US Capitol on Thursday to bid aloha to Inouye during a rare ceremony to demonstrate the respect he earned over decades.
He was eulogized by President Barack Obama.
Obama, who arrived early Saturday in Honolulu for his annual Christmas family vacation, said during a service at Washington's National Cathedral on Friday that Inouye's presence during the Watergate hearings helped show him what could be possible in his own life.
Visitors began signing condolence books at the governor's office on Friday, with additional books available at the Saturday service.
The service brought a steady stream of mourners toward downtown Honolulu one day before another service for Inouye was scheduled at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Obama plans to attend that ceremony, White House officials said on Saturday.