Inouye’s war hero status embodied in WWII service

HONOLULU — When U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000 for his service in World War II, his U.S. Army unit was honored by then-President Bill Clinton as the most decorated unit in American military history.

Their motto, Clinton said, was “Go for broke,” risking everything to win it all.

Inouye, who died Monday at age 88, was honored for extraordinary heroism in action during a battle on April 21, 1945 in which he lost his right arm.

Inouye recounted the moment in the 2004 book “Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words” by Larry Smith.

Inouye’s platoon in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had come under fire from a German bunk on a ridge guarding a crossroads near Terenzo, Italy. Inouye was shot as he tried to draw a grenade, then crawled up the exposed hillside, throwing grenades to take out two machine gun emplacements.

Just as Inouye Intended to throw a grenade at a third position, an enemy rifle grenade exploded near his right elbow, shot by a German roughly 10 yards away.

“My arm was dangling by a couple of shreds, so when I lifted it up, it was hanging like that. Just shredded,” Inouye said in Smith’s book.

Inouye said he was looking for the grenade, then saw it in his right hand, armed.

“The fingers somehow froze over the grenade, so I just had to pry it out. When I pulled it out, the lever snapped open and I knew I had five seconds, so I flipped it into the German’s face as he was trying to reload,” he said. “And it hit the target.”

Inouye was then shot in his right leg and fell down the hill.

Inouye lost his right arm and could no longer pursue the medical career he wanted. He went to law school and eventually politics, representing Hawaii in the U.S. Senate starting in 1962.