1989 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Do your best to set aside the word ‘impossible.’"
Born in 1924 in Honolulu, Daniel Inouye was raised in what was then a congested tenement area of the city. His father worked two full-time jobs, as a clerk by day and a waiter by night, to support his family of four children. Inouye's mother raised him to believe that all people have worth no matter their station in life. "I've practiced that philosophy my whole life," he says, "and credit my mother with my ability to relate well to people at all levels."
Their home was small and cramped, and it was not uncommon for the family of six to divide a single egg for breakfast. One of their most prized possessions was a $50 piano, paid for over a three-year period. In addition to his regular school, Inouye attended a Japanese language school to ensure that he remain well-acquainted with his heritage. In high school, he worked part time, parking cars at the Honolulu Stadium and giving haircuts to fellow students.
An encounter with a noted surgeon inspired Inouye to plan a career in orthopedic surgery. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Inouye, at age 17, was one of the first Americans to handle civilian casualties in the Pacific war. In 1943, he was accepted into the Japanese-American special Nisei combat unit. Nine days before the German surrender, Inouye was wounded by a grenade. The loss of his right arm ended his dream of becoming a surgeon. Instead, he enrolled in a pre-law program at the University of Hawaii under the GI Bill. With the help of his wife, Margaret, he worked his way through George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., earning his degree in 1952.
Back in Hawaii, he served one year as a deputy public prosecutor for the City and County of Honolulu. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Inouye ran for the United States House of Representatives, becoming the new state's first congressman. In 1960, he was elected to the U. S. Senate with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Recently, he was elected to his seventh term. Inouye is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He is also a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and the Senate Rules Committee.
Inouye says he defines success as having the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe is right. "You may not always persuade others to share your beliefs, but you can take pride in the fact that you made the effort," he says. "I continue to believe, as I did 10 years ago, that confidence and the willingness to take risks are two essential ingredients of success. Do not be afraid to fall. I have based my life on the belief that nothing is out of reach if you are willing to work for it and not give up."
When asked about his Horatio Alger Award, Inouye says, "I am pleased to be a member of the Association, which strives to demonstrate to our nation's youth that the world is full of opportunities and that the American Dream is within their grasp if they work hard for it. I am honored to be considered a role model for our nation's youth and will continue to do my best to be worthy of this responsibility."* Deceased