WASHINGTON -- Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the influential Democrat who broke racial barriers on Capitol Hill and played key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, died Monday. He was 88.
Inouye, a senator since January 1963, was at the time the longest-serving senator and was president pro tempore of the Senate, third in line in the presidential succession. His office said Monday that he died of respiratory complications at a Washington-area hospital.
Less than an hour after Inouye's passing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Inouye's death to a stunned chamber. "Our friend Daniel Inouye has died," Reid said somberly. Shocked members of the Senate stood in the aisles or slumped in their chairs.
Inouye was a World War II hero and Medal of Honor winner who lost an arm to a German hand grenade during a battle in Italy. He became the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress when he was elected to the House in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. He won election to the Senate three years later and served there longer than anyone in American history except Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in 2010 after 51 years in the Senate.
President Barack Obama, a native of Hawaii, said in a statement, "Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye. . . . It was his incredible bravery during World War II -- including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor -- that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him."
Inouye died after a relatively brief hospitalization. Despite his age and illness, Inouye's death shocked members of the Senate.
"He was the kind of man, in short, that America has always been grateful to have, especially in her darkest hours, men who lead by example and who expect nothing in return," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Inouye's last utterance, his office said, was "Aloha." He became president pro tem of the Senate in 2010, a largely ceremonial post that placed him in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president and the speaker of the House. Earlier, he had taken the helm of the powerful Appropriations Committee, where he spent most of his Senate career attending to Hawaii.
Inouye had earlier reluctantly joined the Senate's committee on the Watergate scandal. The panel's probe led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Inouye also served as chairman of the committee that investigated the Iran-Contra arms and money affair, which rocked Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Inouye is survived by his son, Daniel Jr., and his second wife, Irene Hirano. His first wife, Margaret Shinobu Awamura, died in 2006.