And as I watched those hearings, listening to Danny ask all those piercing questions night after night, I learned something else. I learned how our democracy was supposed to work, our government of and by and for the people; that we had a system of government where nobody is above the law, where we have an obligation to hold each other accountable, from the average citizen to the most powerful of leaders, because these things that we stand for, these ideals that we hold dear are bigger than any one person or party or politician.
And, somehow, nobody communicated that more effectively than Danny Inouye. You got a sense, as Joe mentioned, of just a fundamental integrity; that he was a proud Democrat, but most importantly, he was a proud American. And were it not for those two insights planted in my head at the age of 11, in between Disneyland and a trip to Yellowstone, I might never have considered a career in public service. I might not be standing here today.
I think it's fair to say that Danny Inouye was perhaps my earliest political inspiration. And then, for me to have the privilege of serving with him, to be elected to the United States Senate and arrive, and one of my first visits is to go to his office, and for him to greet me as a colleague, and treat me with the same respect that he treated everybody he met, and to sit me down and give me advice about how the Senate worked and then regale me with some stories about wartime and his recovery -- stories full of humor, never bitterness, never boastfulness, just matter-of-fact -- some of them I must admit a little off-color. I couldn’t probably repeat them in the cathedral. (Laughter.) There’s a side of Danny that -- well.
Danny once told his son his service to this country had been for the children, or all the sons and daughters who deserved to grow up in a nation that never questioned their patriotism. This is my country, he said. Many of us have fought hard for the right to say that. And, obviously, Rick Shinseki described what it meant for Japanese Americans, but my point is, is that when he referred to our sons and daughters he wasn’t just talking about Japanese Americans. He was talking about all of us. He was talking about those who serve today who might have been excluded in the past. He’s talking about me.
And that’s who Danny was. For him, freedom and dignity were not abstractions. They were values that he had bled for, ideas he had sacrificed for, rights he understood as only someone can who has had them threatened, had them taken away.
The valor that earned him our nation’s highest military decoration -- a story so incredible that when you actually read the accounts, you think this -- you couldn’t make this up. It’s like out of an action movie. That valor was so rooted in a deep and abiding love of this country. And he believed, as we say in Hawaii that we’re a single 'ohana -- that we're one family. And he devoted his life to making that family strong.
After experiencing the horror of war himself, Danny also felt a profound connection to those who followed. It wasn’t unusual for him to take time out of his busy schedule to sit down with a veteran or a fellow amputee, trading stories, telling jokes -- two heroes, generations apart, sharing an unspoken bond that was forged in battle and tempered in peace. In no small measure because of Danny’s service, our military is, and will always remain, the best in the world, and we recognize our sacred obligation to give our veterans the care they deserve.
Of course, Danny didn’t always take credit for the difference he made. Ever humble, one of the only landmarks that bear his name is a Marine Corps mess hall in Hawaii. And when someone asked him how he wanted to be remembered, Danny said, "I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did okay."
Danny, you were more than okay. You were extraordinary.
It’s been mentioned that Danny ended his convention speech in Chicago in 1968 with the word, "aloha." "To some of you who visited us, it may have meant hello," he said, but "To others, it may have meant goodbye. Those of us who’ve been privileged to live in Hawaii understand aloha means I love you."