Mitsuki Matsunaga salutes an urn carrying the ashes of late Sen. Daniel Inouye. Matsunaga and Inouye both served with the 442nd Regimental Combat team during World War II. (TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald)
The Big Island said aloha to late Sen. Daniel Inouye on Thursday.
More than 500 people attended a memorial service at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, where he was remembered by civic and business leaders as one of the “greatest of the greatest generation.”
“The truth is, you set the bar so high,” said Dwight Takamine, state Department of Labor director. “You carry the gold standard. That will be part of your legacy.”
The service followed other ceremonies for Inouye, a decorated World War II veteran who represented Hawaii since statehood, on Dec. 22 in Honolulu and on Dec. 21 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Services are also planned for Kauai today and Maui on Saturday.
Inouye, elected to the House in 1959 and the Senate in 1962, later becoming its most senior member, died Dec. 17. He was 88.
He was credited at the service for directing billions of dollars toward the state, with Hawaii Island being a major benefactor.
“To us in Hawaii … (Inouye) improved the quality of our lives so we in Hawaii can be on par with the mainland states,” said Barry Taniguchi, KTA Super Stores CEO.
Along with many other infrastructure projects, Inouye also channeled funds for the ongoing Saddle Road realignment.
But it may not be simply known as “the Saddle” for long.
Mayor Billy Kenoi called it the “Daniel K. Inouye Highway” during the service, drawing applause from the audience.
He said afterward he will reach out to federal and state agencies to get the name formally changed in Inouye’s memory.
“It was his contribution to all of us,” said Kenoi, a former intern for the late senator.
During his career, Inouye had the national spotlight on him several times as the keynote speaker at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and as a member of the Watergate Committee and Iran-Contra Committee, which he chaired.
“Trust is something you earn,” Takamine said. “We should feel proud he was one of the few men sought in challenging times.”
He said Inouye “never forgot his roots” and was sensitive to civil rights issues and working families.
That showed during the closure of the sugar plantations, said Herbert “Monty” Richards, chairman of Kahua Ranch, when he advocated for the laid-off workers.
“One could write a book on what Sen. Inouye meant and did for the people of the state,” he said.
Inouye’s wife, Irene, was present along with other family members.
Many in attendance lined up to take pictures afterward before paying their respects with the family.
Mitsuki Matsunaga, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team Inouye served with during World War II, saluted the late senator and Medal of Honor recipient.
“We have to respect him,” he said. “We really appreciate what he did.”
Matsunaga was one of about 10 members of the 442nd present, each wearing hats with the slogan, “Go for broke.”
“I really am thankful we had someone that really did something for us,” said Tokuichi Nakano, another member of the Japanese-American regiment.