Speaking at a memorial service for Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, President Barack Obama used the occasion to talk largely about himself. In just 1,600 words, the Chief Executive managed to use the word "my" 21 times, "me" 12 times, and "I" 30 times. All the same, Obama credited Senator Inouye for getting the young Kenyan-American interested in politics. Said Obama, "Danny was elected to the U.S. Senate when I was two years old."
The president spoke to mourners at the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. on December 22, reminiscing about his family and their vacations. "Now, even though my mother and grandparents took great pride that they had voted for him, I confess that I wasn't paying much attention to the United States Senate at the age of four or five or six. It wasn't until I was 11 years old that I recall even learning what a U.S. senator was, or it registering, at least. It was during my summer vacation with my family -- my first trip to what those of us in Hawaii call the Mainland," said Obama.
"So we flew over the ocean, and with my mother and my grandmother and my sister, who at the time was two, we traveled around the country. It was a big trip. We went to Seattle, and we went to Disneyland -- which was most important. We traveled to Kansas where my grandmother's family was from, and went to Chicago, and went to Yellowstone. And we took Greyhound buses most of the time, and we rented cars, and we would stay at local motels or Howard Johnson's. And if there was a pool at one of these motels, even if it was just tiny, I would be very excited. And the ice machine was exciting -- and the vending machine, I was really excited about that."
But this is at a time when you didn’t have 600 stations and 24 hours' worth of cartoons. And so at night, if the TV was on, it was what your parents decided to watch. And my mother that summer would turn on the TV every night during this vacation and watch the Watergate hearings. And I can't say that I understood everything that was being discussed, but I knew the issues were important. I knew they spoke to some basic way about who we were and who we might be as Americans."
And so, slowly, during the course of this trip, which lasted about a month, some of this seeped into my head. And the person who fascinated me most was this man of Japanese descent with one arm, speaking in this courtly baritone, full of dignity and grace. And maybe he captivated my attention because my mom explained that this was our senator and that he was upholding what our government was all about. Maybe it was a boyhood fascination with the story of how he had lost his arm in a war. But I think it was more than that."
Now, here I was, a young boy with a white mom, a black father, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. And I was beginning to sense how fitting into the world might not be as simple as it might seem. And so to see this man, this senator, this powerful, accomplished person who wasn't out of central casting when it came to what you'd think a senator might look like at the time, and the way he commanded the respect of an entire nation I think it hinted to me what might be possible in my own life."
The president did manage to speak about Senator Inouye's life. During the Second World War, Japanese citizens and Japanese-Americans were interned in camps by the federal government out of fear that they would betray the United States. No other American citizens were so treated by their government because of their ancestry. Nonetheless, Inouye - like many other Japanese-Americans - volunteered to fight for his country and eventually merited the Medal of Honor for his service. He later became the first Japanese-American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and at the time of his death on December 17 of this year, was the longest serving member of the U.S. Senate. Of him, Obama said "And so we remember a man who inspired all of us 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 kid growing up in Hawaii –-- that America has a place for everyone."
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