Obama: Sen. Daniel Inouye Was 'My Earliest Political Inspiration'

The president speaks at memorial for the late senator from Hawaii.
16:18 | 12/21/12

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Transcript for Obama: Sen. Daniel Inouye Was 'My Earliest Political Inspiration'
This is the special report. From ABC news now. I'm -- -- -- are gonna take you the national cathedral in Washington DC for the funeral of Hawaii senator Daniel anyway. In a way passed away at the age of 88 and now President Obama also -- -- of some Hawaii. He's offered a tribute. -- Jennifer. -- France. -- former colleagues. It is an extraordinary honor to be would be -- magnificent place to pay tribute. To a man who probably be wondering what all the fuss is about. This -- there was it. In many ways -- day like any other. The sun rose. The son strapped. Great work of our. Democracy. Carried on. But. And fundamental sense it was different. The first day in many of our lives. Certainly my own. That the holes of the United States congress will not -- by the presence. Daniel. Kent. In order. -- was elected to. The US senate when I was two years old. He had been elected to congress. Couple years before it was more. He would remain -- my senator. Until I left Hawaii for college. I even know even though -- My mother and -- friends. Took great pride that they voted form. I confess. I wasn't paying much attention to the United States senate appeared to have four or five or six. It wasn't until I was eleven years old. That I -- call even. Learning what a US senator was -- it registering at least -- it was during my summer vacation when my family. My first trip to what. Those of us and why -- the mainland. So we flew over the ocean. And when my mother and my grandmother my sister -- the time was too -- we traveled around the country. It's big trip we want to Seattle and we went to Disneyland which was most important. We traveled to. Kansas where. Program mother's family was from them. Went to Chicago and went to Yellowstone. We took. Greyhound buses most of the time and we. Rented cars. And -- -- -- Local motels are Howard Johnson's. And if there was a pool at one of these motels even if rose just tiny. I would be very excited and -- ice machine was exciting. The vending machine I was I was really excited about that. But this is at a time when you didn't have 600 stations and point four. If the TV was on there was what your parents decided to watch. And my mother that summer. Would turn on the TV every night during this big case sit and watch the Watergate hearings. And I can't say that I understood everything there was. Being discussed. But I know the issues were important. A new baseball. To some basic way. About -- we will. War and who we might be as Americans. And so slowly. During the course of this trip which lasted about a month. Some of -- -- in -- my head and and the person who fascinated me most. Was this. Man of Japanese descent. -- -- -- Speaking in this portly baritone. Full of dignity. Embrace. And maybe you captivated my attention because my mom explained that. This was our senator. -- that he was upholding. What. Our government was all about. Maybe -- was a boyhood fascination with the story of how we've lost. His arm and war. Whether it was more than that. -- -- was a young boy with a white mom. A black father. Raised. In Indonesia and Hawaii. Does begin to sense how. Fitting end to the world. Might not be as simple as that might -- And so to see this man. This senator this powerful. Accomplished. Person who was not a central cast. -- came to what you'd think -- senator. Might look like at the time. The way he commanded the respect of an entire nation. I think it handed to me. What might be possible in my -- life. This is a man who as a teenager stepped up to serve this country even after. This fellow Japanese Americans were declared. Enemy aliens. A man who believed in America even when it's government. -- necessarily believe in him. That meant something to me. It gave me. A powerful sense one that I couldn't put in the words. A powerful sense of hope. And as I watched those hearings listening to -- -- almost piercing questions night after night. I learned something else I learned how our democracy. Was supposed to work. A government. Oven by and for the people. We have a system of government where nobody is above the law. -- we have an obligation to hold each other accountable. From the average citizens of the most powerful leaders. Because these things us -- we stand for. His ideals that we hold dear. Are bigger than any one person. Or party. -- politician. And somehow nobody communicated that more effectively the -- and -- you you've got a sense as Joseph mentioned. I'm just a fundamental integrity. That. He was a proud Democrat but. Most importantly was -- America. And were not for. Those two insights. Planted in my head. At the age of eleven. In between. Disneyland and a trip to Yellowstone. I might never considered a career in public service. -- might not be standing here today. I -- it's fair to say that. Danny in -- it was. Perhaps my earliest. Political inspiration. And then for -- have the privilege. Of serving. To be elected in the United States senate and arrived and one of my first businesses to go to his office. And for him to greet me. -- -- -- And and and treat me. With the same respect. But he treated everybody he met. And sit me down and give me advice about how the senate worked -- -- regale me with some stories. About. -- time in his recovery. Stores full of humor. Never never -- us. Never -- from us. -- matter of fact. Some of them I -- of middle. Off color I couldn't probably repeat them -- people. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Better once told the sun. The service to this country have been met for the children. For all the sons and daughters who deserved a -- and a nation. That never question their patriotism this is my country he -- Many -- fought hard. For the right to say that. And obviously. Friction -- he described. What it meant for. Japanese Americans but my point is is that. When he referred to our sons and daughters he wasn't just talking about Japanese -- I'm not all of us. He's talking about. Those who serve today. Who might have. Been excluded in the past. -- -- -- -- -- -- For him freedom and dignity we're not abstractions they were values that he had bled for. Ideas he would sacrifice -- Writes he understood as only someone. -- who has had. Them threaten. Had them taken away. The ballot that earned him our nation's highest military direct. Declaration. A story so. Incredible that. When you actually read the accounts. You think this -- this you could make this up. It's like out of an action movie. That valor was so rooted. In a deep and abiding love this country. And he believed as we say in Hawaii that we're a single -- One -- He devoted his life to making that fairly strong. And after experiencing the horror of war himself -- also felt a profound connection to those who fall. There wasn't unusual for him to take time out has been scheduled that sit down with a veteran -- fellow amputees. Trading stories telling jokes. -- heroes generations apart. Sharing an unspoken bomb that was forged in battle. And tempered in peace. In no small measure because of any service. Our military is. And will always remain the best in the world. We recognize our sacred obligation. To give our veterans the care they deserve. Of course then he didn't always take credit for the difference he made. Ever humble. One of the only landmarks that bear his name is a Marine Corps mess hall but in -- When someone asked him how he wanted to be remembered -- said. I represented. The people of Hawaii in this nation honestly. And of the best of my ability. I think I did okay. -- -- more than okay. Through extraordinary. It's been mentioned. The -- ended. His convention speech in Chicago in 1960 it with the word -- To some of you visit us they may have meant alone he said but. To others -- measures meant -- by. Those of us who. Been privileged to live in Hawaii understand aloha means a lot. And as someone who has been privileged to live in Hawaii. I know that he embodied. The very best. That's. The very best. Of the law. It's fitting it was last -- the -- spoke on the -- He may have been saying good -- to us maybe you saying a load of someone waiting on the other side. It was the final expression most of all. Of his love for the family and friends that he cares so much about. For the men and women he was honored to serve what. For the country. That held such a special place in his heart. And so we remember a man who inspired all of us. With his courage. And moved us with his compassion. That inspired us. -- his integrity. And who talked so many of us. Including. A young -- growing up in -- line. That America has a place forever. May god bless Daniel -- May god grant us morsels like -- The president offering a very personal. And reflective moment. Of the late senator from Hawaii Daniel -- -- -- who passed away earlier this week at the age of 88. The president we're calling -- childhood memory. Watching the Watergate hearings in which the senator was a participant. The president saying that to see this man. This senator who is not out of central casting. The -- he commanded respect he hinted at what was possible with my own life. The president also saying that perhaps -- in a way was my earliest political inspiration. The senator a long. And very illustrious career serving the public. Back from the age of seventeen when he enlisted in the army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He would then go on to serve for eight decades in the public's -- sector first as congress has -- the first congressman from Hawaii. Back in 1959 and then as that State's first senator in 1962. And from that point he served nine consecutive -- Passing away earlier this week at the age of 88.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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