By some strange coincidence, it is the senior senator from Hawaii, Democrat Daniel Inouye, who, as chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, is managing the Department of Defense appropriations bill for Democrats on the Senate floor this week.
Inouye does not miss many Senate votes, but he is not inclined to flowery floor speeches, either. The last time he spoke on the Senate floor was back in May.
It is a coincidence that Inouye should be so visible in the Senate this week, because the soft-spoken Hawaiian of Japanese descent is one of the voices of the epic documentary "The War," airing on PBS.
Direct and steely, in one episode, Inouye speaks candidly of the fleeting euphoria he felt killing a German soldier in Italy, and reconciling that with his upbringing as a choir-singing Sunday school teacher.
Later, he tells the audience about a miscommunication: When a German soldier reached in his pocket, Inouye thought it was to grab a weapon and he beat the man with his rifle butt. But, the man produced pictures of his family, instead of a gun. "That is war," Inouye says, simply, to the camera.
Inouye served in the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a regiment of soldiers of Japanese ancestry, famously known as the "go for broke" regiment, because of its determination and bravery in combat. Inouye helped earn the name; he is a bona fide war hero, who earned the Congressional medal of honor as a 2nd lieutenant in April 1945.
There is a difference between seeing Inouye in the close-up, seated shot in which he appears during the documentary and the wide, standing shot in which he can be seen during Senate proceedings on C-SPAN 2. While he discusses his war service on PBS, it is only on the Senate floor that you can see the tangible mark of that service - the empty right sleeve of his suit jacket.
It is unclear what the ratings are for "The War" in the small, exclusive market of the U.S. Senate demographic. But, respect and allusion to World War II seem to be on an uptick as senators haggle over funding for the Department of Defense, and prepare, later this year, to haggle over funding for the Iraq War.
Democratic Sens. David Obey of Wisconsin and John Murtha of Pennsylvania broke with party leaders this week to offer a so-called "war surcharge." This tax increase to pay for the war in Iraq, they said, would draw more Americans into the shared sacrifice of the Iraq War and is similar to policies during World War II and Vietnam.
When asked by reporters how Republicans would pay for the Iraq War, South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham said, "You pay for the war by winning the war. This is not an accounting exercise. How did we pay for World War II? Everybody rolled up their sleeves and did the best they could."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid mentioned his Uncle Doug when he said Americans owe it to the troops to change course in Iraq.
"Since I was a little boy in Searchlight, [Nev.], my Uncle Doug came home from World War II — he was a gunner in a tank in Germany — I've had great admiration for people who serve in the military," Reid said. "And that admiration has not been lessened as a result of the actual heroism and activities of the men and women in our latest conflict, the intractable war in Iraq."
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio talked about his father, who served in World War II, during a speech on the Senate floor.
The Senate will lose one of its dwindling number of World War II veterans after 2008. Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner will retire. He joined the Navy at the tail end of World War II in January 1945. He later served in Korea as a Marine.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, also a Democrat from Hawaii, was in the Army Corps of Engineers, and Alaska's Republican Sen. Ted Stevens was in the Army Air Corps in China.
Inouye, who has represented Hawaii in Congress since Hawaii became a state in 1959, is up for re-election in 2010. He has been in the Senate for 44 years, the fourth-longest serving senator in history.