By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday paid tribute to U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War Two hero who represented Hawaii in Congress for more than 50 years, calling the senator who died on Monday "my earliest political inspiration."
Inouye, who lost his right arm in battle and gained national attention during the Senate's Watergate hearings, died at age 88. Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden spoke about Inouye's legacy at a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral.
Obama, who was born in Hawaii, recalled seeing Inouye, a senator not "out of central casting," ask tough questions during the televised Watergate hearings, which dominated television during Obama's first-ever visit to the U.S. mainland.
"The person who fascinated me most was this man of Japanese descent with one arm, speaking in this courtly baritone, full of dignity and grace," Obama said.
Obama, then 11, said he was beginning to sense that "fitting into the world" would not always be easy as the son of a white woman and black man, and said Inouye captured his attention between visits to Disneyland and Yellowstone National Park.
"It hinted to me what might be possible in my own life," Obama said.
"I think it's fair to say that Danny Inouye was perhaps my earliest political inspiration."
'ALOHA AND MAHALO'
Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after the 1941 Japanese attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
The U.S. government had declared Japanese-Americans "enemy aliens" as a result of the attack, and Inouye, then 17, was among those who petitioned for the right to serve in the U.S. military to prove their allegiance.
Inouye lost his right arm while charging a series of German machine-gun nests on a hill in Italy in 1945. Continued...