WASHINGTON — Sen. Daniel Inouye, the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history, was remembered Thursday as a man who gallantly defended his country on the battlefield and gracefully sought to better it during the 50-plus years he represented his beloved state of Hawaii.
Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell. The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and goodwill he generated over the years. Only 31 people have lain in the Capitol rotunda; the last was former President Gerald R. Ford nearly six years ago. The last senator who died in office and was accorded the honor was Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, in 1978.
"Daniel Inouye was an institution, and he deserved to spend at least another day in this beautiful building in which he dedicated his life," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Inouye's closed casket was draped with the American flag during the morning ceremony and placed atop the same catafalque that supported the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. His family and staff looked on as Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to a man whom Biden said made him proud to be called a senator.
Inouye was Hawaii's first congressman. In his early days in Washington, Inouye's modesty would never have allowed him to think he would walk the halls of the Capitol for the next five decades, Boehner said.
"He couldn't have fathomed all the good that he would do here, helping to build a new state, gaining rights and benefits for veterans, supporting agriculture, speaking out against injustice, becoming one of the most revered senators in our history," Boehner said.
Inouye died Monday from respiratory complications. The soft-spoken but powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was 88.
Before Inouye made his mark as a politician, he did so as a war hero who lost his right arm while leading his platoon into battle on a ridge in Italy. He later was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.
Inouye's body will be escorted today to the Washington National Cathedral and will be returned to Hawaii on Saturday.