By Justin Sink - 12/21/12 05:44 PM EST
President Obama credited Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) as “perhaps my earliest political inspiration” at a memorial service for the late senator at Washington's National Cathedral on Friday.
“We remember a man who inspired all of use with his courage and moved us with his compassion, that inspired us with his integrity, and who taught so many of us, including a young boy growing up in Hawaii, that America has place for everyone,” Obama said.
The president, who was joined in speaking at the memorial service by Vice President Biden, former President Clinton, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that Inouye “commanded the respect of an entire nation.”
Obama spoke fondly of a time, as a young boy, when he watched Inouye on television. He said he was inspired by his senator's “fundamental integrity.” And the president said that as “a young boy with a white mom and a black father raised in Indonesia and Hawaii,” he found Inouye — the first Japanese-American elected to the Senate — an inspiration.
“This was a man who believed in America even when his government didn't necessarily believe in him,” Obama said. “That meant something to me. It gave me a powerful sense, one I couldn't put into words, a powerful sense of hope.”
Obama followed a mournful eulogy by Biden, a close personal friend of Inouye who said that he told his sons he hoped they modeled themselves in every way after the Hawaii senator.
“No one ever doubted that Danny Inouye had such integrity at his core that he would meet any obligation thrust upon him with absolute steadiness and objectivity,” Biden said, adding that Inouye's “physical courage was matched by his moral courage.”
President Clinton praised Inouye as “old fashionably gallant without seeming pompous,” saying he achieved the rare political feat of being “courageous without being sanctimonious.”
“He didn't care whether the sun was shining or the storm was raging, he didn't care if you were up or down or sideways, he was just there,” Clinton said.
Reid, a longtime colleague of Inouye's in the senate, praised the legislator as both a legislative and war hero.
“Whenever there was a difficult job to do, whenever we needed a noble man to lean on, we always turned to Sen. Daniel Inouye,” Reid said.
Inouye's body, which was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, will be flown back to Hawaii on Saturday for a private funeral and burial.