By Derrick DePledge
President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, at a ceremony at the White House.
It was fitting that the man the president recognized after the Hawaii Democrat -- former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana -- shared Inouye's love and respect for the traditions of the Senate. In Inouye's and Lugar's era, personal relationships often trumped partisan politics.
During the 2012 election cycle, when Inouye poured $900,000 from his political action committee to help Democrats nationally, he refused to campaign against Lugar in Indiana. Remarkably, Lugar -- who was one of the most respected men in the Senate, particularly on foreign policy issues -- lost a primary challenge to Richard Mourdock, a conservative state treasurer who attacked the idea of bipartisanship. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, beat Mourdock last November.
From President Obama:
And, finally, we salute public servants who’ve strengthened our nation.
Daniel Inouye was a humble man and didn’t wear his Medal of Honor very often. Instead, he liked to wear a pin representing the Good Conduct Medal he earned as a teenage private. “To behave yourself takes special effort,” he said, “and I did not want to dishonor my family.” Danny always honored his family and his country, even when his country didn’t always honor him.
After being classified as an “enemy alien,” Danny joined a Japanese American unit that became one of the most decorated in World War II. And as the second-longest serving senator in American history, he showed a generation of young people -- including one kid with a funny name growing up in Hawaii who noticed that there was somebody during some of those hearings in Washington that didn't look like everybody else, which meant maybe I had a chance to do something important, too. He taught all of us that no matter what you look like or where you come from, this country has a place for everybody who’s willing to serve and work hard.
A proud Hoosier, Dick Lugar has served America for more than half a century, from a young Navy lieutenant to a respected leader in the United States Senate. I’ll always be thankful to Dick for taking me -- a new, junior senator -- under his wing, including travels together to review some of his visionary work, the destruction of Cold War arsenals in the former Soviet Union -- something that doesn’t get a lot of public notice, but was absolutely critical to making us safer in the wake of the Cold War.
Now, I should say, traveling with Dick you get close to unexploded landmines, mortar shells, test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague. (Laughter.) His legacy, though, is the thousands of missiles and bombers and submarines and warheads that no longer threaten us because of his extraordinary work. And our nation and our world are safer because of this statesman. And in a time of unrelenting partisanship, Dick Lugar’s decency, his commitment to bipartisan problem-solving, stand as a model of what public service ought to be.