Aloha Senator Dan Inouye

The people of Hawaii bid Senator Dan Inouye “aloha” as welcome, love and farewell in a manner as unique as these islands and the respect they have for this very special son.

The event for the late Hawaii senator (1924-2012) was sandwiched in between official ceremonies in Washington D.C. and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (called “Punchbowl,” locally). It began with a formal ceremony in the center of the Hawaii State Capitol. Press reports say that most of those who gathered wore black, that music included “Danny Boy” by the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii and tributes from the governor, chief justice and house speaker.

I don’t know about that. As with many others, my visit was spontaneous. When we left the movie theater Saturday afternoon, I noticed a comment on Twitter that someone was in line to pay respects to Senator Dan. I mentioned that to my boyfriend Rick, who was driving us back to Kailua from Kaneohe. He immediately swerved to the town-bound lane for Honolulu. We wondered how the senator could be lying in state in the State Capitol because the roof is opened to the skies, and there are no outer walls to the building. It’s also always open to the public, although inner offices are secured. We had no plan as we headed to town, but we knew we wanted to see this great man in his final hour.

As we joined a line feeding into the State Capitol, I could see that a tent had been erected in the center of the building to protect the casket from rain. So, the weather had been accommodated. As for concerns about security, as they say in Hawaii: “No need.” Guards were in place to demonstrate respect, but everyone who approached found a place in the rapidly-growing line. No one tried to barge in where unwanted. That would be rude and disrespectful at any time, but especially as we honored a man who embodied dignity.

The line was not as long as I feared, but as polite as I have come to expect in Hawaii. People waited patiently, visiting quietly with one another. It was subdued but not somber. Some wore dress clothes, but more came in whatever they were already wearing. The couple behind me mentioned that they came because the ceremony at Punchbowl would be impossible to get in to, with all the visiting officials. You have to get tickets somewhere – they didn’t know where, but everyone knows where to find the State Capitol, so they came down.

A state trooper walked along the line, handing out memorial programs. I got the last one, but he said he would be back with more. When he returned, we hadn’t moved much. He announced as he passed, “The line is moving, please be patient.” No one had been impatient; the viewing would be open until midnight. In front of me, an elderly man of Asian descent nodded at me and gestured with his program. He seemed touched by the honors it listed: Medal of Honor, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal. I also know that on Oahu, at least, people are forever identified by their high school: William McKinley High School class of 1942.

The line included people with small children, and many elderly in wheel chairs or motorized scooters. One old woman walked past the line to take a seat on a bench near a national guardsman, who was standing alert. He smiled down at her as she said, “I’m going to sit here until my place in line comes up.” “Good idea,” he replied. We took photos of the casket, flanked by military, with Inouye’s cape of the Royal Order of Kamehameha displayed nearby. A quick pause for respect in front of the casket, and then an orderly move on in respect for those in line behind.

As we left, I heard a woman in an approaching group saying on her cell phone, “The line isn’t bad at all, some friends are ahead of us and they are already inside, come on down.” As with the Twitter message I saw earlier, the “Coconut Wireless” was also spreading the word. A line of bicyclists approached on the street, and I heard the leader say, “Let’s show our respect,” as he turned to salute on his ride past the Capitol. Tourist trolleys detoured from the nearby Honolulu Holiday lights display, and I swear, I heard one play “Ave Maria” as they passed the Capitol.

On the back cover of the memorial program, beneath the photo of a very young Dan Inouye in uniform, was this quote: “I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK.”

We think so, too. Mahalo, Senator Dan, and aloha.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher