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The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye Receives Thayer Award

Categories: Thayer Award, Events & Awards

A soldier of extraordinary valor and a public servant of great distinction, Senator Daniel K. Inouye has made a lifetime of outstanding contributions for the good of our nation. His deeds and words have richly exemplified the ideals of West Point, as expressed in its motto, Duty, Honor, Country.

The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye receives West Point Thayer Award

As a young soldier serving with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe during World War II, Sergeant Daniel Inouye earned a battlefield commission as a result of his demonstrated leadership and courage. He also earned the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and through acts of extraordinary heroism, the Distinguished Service Cross, which was subsequently upgraded to the Medal of Honor. As a public servant, Senator Inouye has provided his Hawaiian constituents and the entire American people over fifty years of strength and wisdom in legislative bodies ranging from the Hawaiian Territorial House of Representatives to the United States Senate. His contributions to the work of the Senate Watergate Committee brought him nationwide admiration for his integrity and public courage; his co-chairmanship of the Joint Congressional Committee that conducted the Iran-Contra hearings reaffirmed that admiration fifteen years later.

The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye receives West Point Thayer Award

The life work of Senator Daniel Inouye leaves an indelible mark upon the history of the United States. One of the greatest Americans to hail from the state of Hawaii, he has established a record of achievements that clearly reflects the values expressed in the motto of West Point. Accordingly, the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy hereby presents the 2001 West Point Sylvanus Thayer Award to Senator Daniel K. Inouye.

Thomas B. Dyer
Chairman and CEO
Association of Graduates


The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye receives West Point Thayer Award

Remarks by U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye

Upon receiving the Sylvanus Thayer Award
West Point – 18 April 2001

Mere words cannot fully express the emotions of gratitude I hold within me, for in a sense, this is a homecoming for me. Fifty-seven years ago, I was advised that I would be traveling to West Point to begin my studies as a cadet. But circumstances of war brought about a sudden change. I am at a loss to describe my feelings at this moment as I stand before you.

The sacred words of West Point—“Duty, Honor, Country”—have been a part of the history of this land since the time of its birth. And yet today, many Americans find repeating these words to be somewhat difficult, for they perceive it might be too pretentious and not quite sincere. Yet these words have been, and I hope will continue to be, an important part of America’s character.

It was duty that made young Americans withstand the bitter winter cold, without shoes and without food, during the dark days of Valley Forge. These men left their farms, their families, and their fortunes to fight for a country that was not in existence at that time, and they carried out their duties with courageous honor.

“Duty, Honor, Country” are words that are also important in my life.

Senator Inouye accepts the Thayer Award from AOG Chairman Thomas Dyer and LTG William Lennox, Jr., Superintendent.

On the day I was scheduled to leave my home to put on the uniform of the Army and enter a new life, I was accompanied by my father, and we rode together in a streetcar to the assembly point. He was a quiet man; he was not an intellectual in any sense of the word. But the few times he spoke, he spoke words of wisdom.

As we approached the point of departure, he cleared his throat and simply said, “This country has been good to us. We owe much to this country, and if you must give your life for it, do so with honor.”

It was a simple statement, which I readily understood.

But I must confess that I would find it difficult to repeat those words to my son. However, I hope that if the time should come when I am called to say those words to my son, I will have the strength and character to do so.

A few weeks after December 7, 1941, the U.S. Selective Service Commission issued a directive designating all Americans of Japanese ancestry as “4-C,” or “enemy alien.”

It meant that under no circumstance could we of Japanese ancestry serve in the military of the United States. We could not be drafted, nor could we volunteer.

Soon thereafter, Executive Order 9066 was issued by the White House establishing 10 internment camps at which to house all Japanese—citizens and non-citizens—residing on the West Coast of the United States. Officially, these locations were designated as concentration camps. None of the inmates had committed any criminal acts, nor were they ever tried in a court of law. Such was the hysteria of war at that time.

And so, we young Americans of Japanese ancestry immediately began petitioning the President of the United States to be permitted to put on the uniform of the land, if only to prove our loyalty and demonstrate our commitment to the essence of your three sacred words: “Duty, Honor, Country.”

After several months of consideration, the President of the United States issued another Executive Order establishing a special army combat team consisting of Japanese American volunteers, with words I will remember: “Americanism is a matter of the mind and the heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”

With that, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was established, made up primarily of Caucasian-American officers and Japanese-American enlisted personnel. I was one of them.

I was 18 years old at that time, when the enlisted men of the Regiment reported to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to begin their training. We fought in Italy and France.

I am proud, but humbled, to report to you that the United States Army declared the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of our nation. Of the hundreds of medals received by the 442nd soldiers, 20 were Medals of Honor.

I spoke earlier of the “4-C” designation and the internment camps. But as an American, I am proud to report to you that this nation not only acknowledged those decisions as mistakes, but also took steps to rectify its errors and, most importantly, issued an apology. Only a strong, confident nation could ever do that. To serve a country like the United States is, indeed, an honor.

Senator Inouye proudly displays his Thayer Award medal.

We Americans should not be reluctant or afraid to use the words, “Duty, Honor, Country,” because they are necessary if we are to continue enjoying the good life we have become accustomed to. These words should also comfort us because they have led a group of Americans to take an oath to stand in harm’s way, in our behalf, if necessary, and, if called upon to do so, make the ultimate sacrifice.

Yes, I am comforted to know there are Americans willing to do so. A very small number, less than 1 percent of the population, serve and defend the rest of us in the armed forces of the United States.

Two weeks ago, I returned from an official trip that took us to Beijing, Singapore, Jakarta, and Manila. Two weeks before that trip, I was in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. There were two common threads in those trips.

One, the specter of terrorism was always present in those lands.

And, second, I was comforted to know that there were men and women who believed in those three words and were serving in those faraway places on land, sea, and air, ready to fight our battles if need be, and ready to give up their lives if called upon to do so.

Today I have the high honor and privilege of serving our nation as Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. I have been a member of this Committee for the past 30 years. Throughout my service, I have followed a simple philosophy: to prevent war, we must be prepared for war. At this moment in history, if we should ever show weakness, non-commitment, and disunity, we will most certainly be subjected to great pain. I can assure you, that to the extent possible, I will do everything to prevent such a catastrophe. “Duty, Honor, Country” compel me to do that.

Some have suggested that our taxpayers are overburdened. There is truth to that. Some suggest that too much is spent on defense. I question that.

As far as I am concerned, it is not too much to support to the fullest any man or woman who is willing to stand in harm’s way and give up his or her life on our behalf.

Our country is not perfect, but we acknowledge that, and we are constantly taking steps to improve ourselves. Today our country is powerful. But we do our best to use this power to bring about peace and stability on this planet, not for territorial or material gain.

Our land has the most diverse populace in the world, and as such, we acknowledge that we have social and ethnic problems. But we are doing our best to prove that diversity is a strength and not an obstacle to progress.

Senator Inouye enjoys the company of cadets.

Looking about you, I can see the evidence of our nation’s diversity. And from this diversity of talented and patriotic Americans, I can see the leaders of tomorrow — not just military leaders, but leaders in the political community, leaders in the academic community, and leaders in the business community.

Yes, I envy you because, although we may have many challenges and obstacles in the future, I know that through your leadership, we will overcome them. I envy you because I believe you will live in a better America, a better America where the sacred words of “Duty, Honor, Country” will have meaning and relevance.

To all of you, I wish you Godspeed. God be with you. God bless America.

Thayer Award

Since 1958, the West Point Association of Graduates has presented the SYLVANUS THAYER AWARD to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.”
The Sylvanus Thayer Award is funded by a generous endowment from E. Doug Kenna ’45 and his wife, Jean.

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