Overcoming Adversities and Successful Leadership: The US Senator Daniel Inouye Story

This groundbreaking leadership research by has received extensive endorsements and enthusiastic reviews from well-known prominent business, political, and academic leaders who either participated in the study or reviewed the research findings. You will discover the proven success habits and secrets of people who, in spite of difficult or life threatening challenges shaped their own destiny to become successful, effective leaders. The full results of this research will be presented in the upcoming book by Dr. Howard Edward Haller titled “Leadership: View from the Shoulders of Giants.”

The nine initial prominent successful leaders who overcame adversity that were interviewed included: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Monzer Hourani, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Dr. John Malone, Larry Pino, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and Zig Ziglar.

The data from the above nine research participants was materially augmented by seven other successful leaders who overcame adversity including: Jack Canfield, William Draper III, Mark Victor Hansen, J. Terrence Lanni, Angelo Mozilo, Dr. Nido Qubein, and Dr. John Sperling.

Additionally, five internationally known and respected leadership scholars offered their reviews of the leadership research findings including: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, Dr. John Kotter, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.

This is a short biography of one of the principal participants who generously contributed their time and insight for this important research into the phenomenon of how prominent successful leaders overcome adversity and obstacles. This is Senator Daniel Inouye’s story.

Daniel Inouye is the eldest son of Japanese immigrants who worked on the Hawaiian sugar plantations where Daniel was born and raised. He lived in what he described as a “Japanese-American ghetto.” He went to the local Hawaiian school, at which “the student body was 90% ethnic Japanese.”

As a young boy, Daniel accidentally fell and broke his left arm in a terrible compound fracture. The local doctor, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, set the arm. It mended, but not well. In his autobiography, Inouye wrote, “My arm hung limp and crooked and I could barely move it” (1968, p. 49). After two years of searching his parents, “contacted the best orthopedic surgeon in Hawaii,” who reconstructed Dan’s “left arm and made it good as new.” That incident formed the basis of Daniel’s career goal: to become an orthopedic surgeon. He told the orthopedic surgeon who repaired his arm and restored it to full use, “I’m going to be a doctor, like you.” He faced racial discrimination when he was nominated to the local honor society in high school and was made to feel most unwelcome there.

While still in high school, Dan became a volunteer with the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Then the “entire world turned upside down” on December 7, 1942. After the bombing, the secretary of the local American Red Cross chapter called young Daniel into action immediately, having him “help with injured people who had been rescued from fallen debris, as well as the other wounded that needed treatment.” Daniel shared that his life had been changed by the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

The war came along, and the challenge was immense, not just physical, but emotional. My loyalty, together with those of my generation, was questioned. We were looked upon as enemy agents, and our friends of Japanese ancestry were placed in camps, without any trial. And that was something that, though I was fairly young, I felt had to be overcome.

Though Daniel was of Japanese descent, he was “100% American.” The following year, when President Franklin Roosevelt finally allowed the Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) to join the United States military, Daniel attempted to enlist, but he was turned down. Unwilling to accept “no” as an answer, he requested information from the draft board concerning his rejection. The clerk found that Daniel was “working 72 hours a week at the aid station” of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Dan was told, “You’re already making an essential defense contribution, and you’re enrolled in a pre-med course at the University, and Lord knows we’ll be needing doctors.” So he dropped out of the University of Hawaii and quit his job with the Red Cross. Then he re-applied.

This time his application was accepted. Inouye was bright and eager to serve. “In the military, there was another challenge, or obstacle.” Dan said, “I was the assistant squad leader. Then, the youngest person was about two years my senior, and the oldest was about 15 years my senior.” Because these were Japanese-American soldiers who all came from “a society where age makes a difference . . . where elders are looked upon with a bit more respect than the younger ones, it was a challenge. So,

I had to work overtime at that, to justify that position.”
He was promoted rapidly, first to corporal and then to sergeant. Daniel and his unit were sent to Italy to fight. He earned a battlefield commission to second lieutenant while fighting in Europe. In one battle in Italy, near the end of World War II in Europe, young Lieutenant Inouye had his right arm essentially shot off. In spite of the intense pain, he insisted on remaining at the battle scene, directing and protecting his troops, though he had tourniquets on his right shoulder and the stub of that arm. He was decorated for his heroism, receiving a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also recommended for, and later received, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Inouye was transferred back to the United States to receive treatment and rehabilitation for his wounds.

Senator Inouye told me, “I specifically chose to do my rehabilitation as far away from Hawaii as possible,” because he had always been sheltered. He explained, “I had experienced only limited contact with anything outside my Japanese-American neighborhood.” He wanted to see how other people lived, and became cultured in the ways of the “hoale” [white] world in the process. “I underwent a ‘Pygmalion transformation,’ learning how to formally dine with silver and china, attending cultural events and meetings with as many different types of people as I possibly could.”

Inouye shared that his generation, “in Hawaii, [came] from [Japanese-American] ethnic enclaves [who] spoke a strange brand of pidgin-English. So I felt that if I lived in a community where you were literally forced to change your way of communicating, it would help. And it did.” Daniel specifically noted, “In fact, the highest compliment paid was when I returned home to Hawaii, and I opened my mouth to see how [my mother] was, she said, ‘You speak like a ‘hoale’!” During his lengthy rehabilitation, Daniel decided to finish college, get a law degree, and then enter into public service.

He left the U.S. Army as a captain, returned to the University of Hawaii, and married a Japanese-American girl, Margaret Awamura. He completed “law school with a Juris Doctorate at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in just two years,” and then returned to Hawaii, where he “took and passed the Territorial Bar exam.”

In 1959 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the new State of Hawaii, becoming the first Japanese-American ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Inouye was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, and has been re-elected every six years since then. Senator Daniel K. Inouye is the third highest-ranking member of the United States Senate.

Copyright 2006 © Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

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