He could be a fierce warrior and advocate, but he went about it without fanfare. He never sought the spotlight. In March 2009 the senator and his wife Irene quietly showed up at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network dinner to demonstrate their support for gay and lesbian service members. The senator stood, front and center in the room, proudly honoring LGBT troops who had served and died for our country. This is part of what Senator Inouye said that evening:
“We call them friends, brothers, and sisters -- our fallen comrades. We remember them for their bravery and for the sacrifices they have made. The chair is empty because they are not here to share in this meal. The glass is inverted. They cannot toast with us this night. The white tablecloth is a symbol of the purity of their intentions to respond to our country's call to arms. A slice of lemon lies on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate. The salt is symbolic of the tears they shed as they wait. The single rose reminds us of the families and loved one who keep vigil and faithfully await their return. Remember, all you who served with them and called them Solider, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Coastguardsman. You relied upon them and depended upon their might and aid. They have not forgotten you.”
The appearance of the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the words he said that evening honoring all of our troops, straight and gay, were not lost on the White House, the Pentagon, nor Congress. The senator, in his eighth decade, stepped up long before DADT repeal legislation was introduced in the Senate. Not many knew, but Senator Inouye had also volunteered to co-chair a national commission to abolish the gay military ban.
This Medal of Honor recipient led in ensuring that our World War II veterans, as well as Native Americans, would have a place of honor on our National Mall.
Senator Inouye was an unassuming man who had felt the pain of being treated as less than equal. He never forgot the cruel slights and name calling he had endured, not even when he became one of the most powerful and important men in our country. He embraced righting wrongs in the country he loved.
Former Senate staffer Toni Cook Bush said it best upon hearing of the Senator's passing, "I am heartbroken. He was the best. He was the most decent man I have ever worked with."
The United States Senate and our nation lost a gentle giant this week. Few have done more or given more for their country, for all in our country, than Senator Daniel Inouye. And all of us are deeply in his debt.,
Sarvis is an Army veteran,former chief counsel of the Senate Commerce Committee and former executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.