Irene Inouye, the wife of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, christens the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer named after the World War II hero and one of the country’s longest-serving senators. (Bath Iron Works photo)

BATH — Bath Iron Works’ 37th Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened Saturday by the namesake’s widow, Irene Inouye. 

Born in Hawaii in 1924, Daniel Inouye was a World War II hero who went on to become the first Japanese-American elected to Congress. He served in the USenate for 50 years and was the second-longest-serving senator in history. He died in 2012 after representing the people of Hawaii since it became the 50th state in 1962. 

Inouye served as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who served with him, praised Inouye’s valor, spirit and friendship. 

Inouye visited Bath Iron Works in 1961, while serving in the U.S. House, for the launching of the USS Leahy, she noted. He was a strong supporter of naval sea power, she said. 

“I don’t think Dan could have imagined how much of an impact that he would have in the 50 years that he served in the Senate,” said his widow, Irene Inouye. 

Inouye was a recipient of both the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

“So let us hope that this ship which will carry his name will serve as an inspiration to those not only who will sail on it but to those who will understand that Dan, who was in the military, was opposed to war as someone who saw the horrors of war firsthand,” she said. “Dan always believed that the best way to ensure that we could avoid war was to have the strongest military that we could.” 

The infantryman’s heroism during World War II was recognized by speakers on Saturday. 

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii worked with the senator for decades and said Inouye was at home listening to the radio on Dec. 7, 1941, when news broke that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. 

He rushed to a nearby elementary school where he spent the next week providing medical aid to the wounded. He was only 17 years old, Hirono said. In the following months, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in camps across the nation. He tried to enter the military but was repeatedly denied. Americans of Japanese ancestry were prohibited from enlisting in the U.S. military. 

“Almost immediately after the Army lifted its enlistment ban on Japanese-Americans, Sen. Inouye left the University of Hawaii and volunteered to serve in the segregated all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team,” Hirono said. “Again, he was only 17 years old.” 

Nisei are the first American-born generation of Japanese Americans. The word was once used to refer to all Japanese Americans, according to the Japanese American National Museum. 

The U.S. Army’s 442nd Combat Regiment became one of the most decorated units of its kind in U.S. military history, Hirono said. More than 12,000 soldiers in the unit served in French and Italian campaigns. 

Inouye and comrades-in-arms famously rescued the “Lost Battalion of Texas” behind enemy lines in France in 1944. He then led his 30-man platoon on an assault on a ridge near San Terenzo, Italy in the spring of 1945 where he was shot five times and lost his arm. 

The platoon was ambushed, leaving Inouye crawling with a bullet wound near his spine. He still managed to hurl a grenade into a machine gun nest, destroying it, before a German soldier fired a grenade at him. The impact partially severed his arm from his shoulder. He managed to throw another grenade with his left hand, taking out the bunker. 

While Inouye reported he didn’t remember what happened next, the company commander said Inouye grabbed his sub-machine gun in his left hand and fired as he charged the last machine gun, taking a bullet in the leg which knocked him to the ground. 

As he was being carried away for medical attention after tumbling down the hill, “Sen. Inouye ordered his men back into the fight saying, ‘Nobody called off the war,'” Hirono said. 

Throughout his time in Congress, she said Inouye remained an ally and advocate for his brothers in arms as they transitioned to veteran status. He fought to honor his fellow Nisei veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal. 

“He called on his nation to honor the service of our Vietnam War veterans even as he steadfastly fought to end that war,” Hirono said. “And he led efforts in Congress to provide compensation and recognition for Filipino veterans of World War II who had fought for decades to receive the benefits they earned in service to our country.” 

Hirono said she spoke with some of the sailors who will serve on the USS Inouye.  

“They told me that some 50 of you volunteered specifically for this duty because of a special relationship with Hawaii and because of their respect for Sen. Inouye,” she said. 

Inouye refused to evacuate though wounded by gunshot and grenade and refused to quit, said Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe. With a shattered arm, he led his men to victory. 

“Today, we look to the exceptional life of Sen. Inouye for inspiration and guidance as we welcome a new ship and her crew to our great Navy fleet,” said Wolfe. “Like its fellow Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the USS Daniel Inouye will provide combatant commanders with the ability to conduct a range of missions, the kind of flexibility that’s increasingly critical in a world of rising maritime competition.” 

The destroyers are capable of air, surface and subsurface battle simultaneously and contain a myriad of offensive and defensive weapons designed to support maritime warfare, said Wolfe, who is the director of the Navy’s strategic systems programs. 

“These hulls can only be as great as their crews, though — the people,” he said. “As Daniel Inouye demonstrated so well, it is people who achieve greatness.” 

Wolfe said there is a photo of Inouye posing in front of his army combat team colors and the regimental motto: “Go for broke.” 

It is also now the motto of the USS Daniel Inouye. 

“How fitting a photo for a man who was all in on America and what we stand for,” Wolfe said, “and in that spirit, we know that this crew with this ship, will serve our nation and our Navy with honor, with courage and with commitment.” 

The guided missile destroyer’s homeport will be Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

Displaying more than 9,000 tons, the 510-foot ship can easily top 30 knots while simultaneously waging war with enemy ships, submarines, missiles and aircraft. 

Its combat system uses powerful computers and a phased-array radar to track more than 100 targets. It’s also equipped with ballistic missile defense capability. 

David Sharp of the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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The crowd celebrates the freshly christened USS Daniel Inouye Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Saturday at Bath Iron Works. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

 

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