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WASHINGTON -- Democrat Daniel Inouye, the U.S. Senate's most senior member and a Medal of Honor recipient for his bravery during World War II, has died. He was 88.

He died of respiratory complications, according to the Associated Press.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the news of Inouye's death on the Senate floor, sparking a round of tributes for the man Reid called "a giant of the Senate." Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hailed Inouye's service and his reserve as a mark of "men who lead by example and expect nothing in return."

As president pro tempore of the Senate, Inouye was third in line of presidential succession -- after Vice President Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. First elected to the Senate in 1962, Inouye's tenure is second only to Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in 2010.

Under Hawaii law, Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a successor to Inouye until a special election can be held.

Perhaps more than any other politician, Inouye has been a dominating presence in Hawaii's history. He has represented Hawaii continuously since it achieved statehood in 1959, first in the U.S. House and then in the U.S. Senate, where he used his seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee to send federal dollars back home for a host of projects. Inouye has served on the commitee since 1971, and became chairman in 2009.

Inouye was a proud supporter of "earmarks," the special pet projects of senators, which were banned in the Senate in 2010. Inouye won approval for $392.4 million in earmarks in fiscal 2010, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Throughout his life, Inouye was a witness to some of the nation's most historic moments, first as a teenage Red Cross volunteer who tended to the wounded when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was keynote speaker at the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Inouye would later serve as a member of the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and chairman in the 1980s of the panel investigating the Reagan administration's sale of arms to Iran, whose proceeds were used to fund Nicaraguan rebels in what became known as the Iran-contra affair.

Yet it was on the battlefields in Europe during World War II where Inouye first earned distinction. At a time when the federal government placed thousands of Japanese Americans into relocation camps, Inouye and his Asian-American peers petitioned the White House for the right to serve in the military. He dropped out of school to join the Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of second-generation Japanese Americans known as Nisei.

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