Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Daniel Inouye, September 7, 1924 – December 17, 2012

So it's only been a year and a day since I last posted here? I was sure it had been longer than that. What brought me out from under my rock?

Senator Daniel Inouye died yesterday. He was, in a way, a hero of mine. This goes back to the Watergate investigation, which was the event that put Inouye in the spotlight for the first time. He was being interviewed on television -- 60 Minutes, maybe? -- and he told a story about losing his arm in battle in Italy during World War II. He was quite a war hero -- a Medal of Honor recipient -- but you can read about his exploits elsewhere; they're well documented. It was that story he told on television those years ago, when I was a teenager, that has stuck with me:

He was in the hospital, in bed, in 1945, just after having had his right arm amputated. A nurse was passing by, and he asked her for a cigarette. She took out a new, unopened pack of cigarettes and tossed them on his bed, and then left. He was disgusted that she didn't even open the pack for him -- how was he supposed to open it, with only one hand? But he managed to get it open and get a cigarette out -- I think he used his teeth.

Then the nurse walked back by, and he asked her for a light. She took out a pack of matches and tossed them on the bed. As she walked away, his disgust overflowed, and he called, "Hey! How am I supposed to light a match? I only have one arm, you know."

The nurse turned around and said, "Soldier, you're only going to have one arm for the rest of your life, so you better start figuring things out for yourself."

She left, and Inouye thought about what she said. Then he set himself to figuring out how to light a match with one hand.

"And I did," he told the interviewer -- we'll say it was 60 Minutes. "Do you want to see?"

Of course the interviewer did. Inouye got out a pack of matches. "I quit smoking a long time ago," he said, "but I carry matches with me just to show people." He used his thumb to flip open the cover and then bend one of the matches down so the matchhead was against the sandpaper. He pinned it there with his thumb, and then flicked his thumb sharply to the side, rubbing the matchhead against the sandpaper and lighting it.

In that moment, he became a hero to me.

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