In the summer of 1987, Inouye rebuked Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved the sale of embargoed weapons to Iran in order to divert the resulting profits to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.

"It was painful to all of us to sit here and listen to your testimony," the senator said. "It was equally painful that you lied and misled for what you believed to be a good cause."

"Everyone in the Senate not only admired Danny Inouye, but they trusted him," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement. "We all knew he would do the moral thing regardless of the consequences — whether it was passing judgment on a president during Watergate or on another president in the Iran-Contra hearings. And Danny always remembered where he came from — and how hard his family had to struggle."

Daniel Ken Inouye was born in Honolulu on Sept. 7, 1924, the oldest of four children of Japanese immigrants. His father was a jewelry clerk and his mother a homemaker.

Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, about 110,000 Pacific Coast residents — but not those in Hawaii — were interned in detention camps. Inouye, who continued in a pre-med program at the University of Hawaii, waited impatiently until he could enlist.

"I was angered to realize that my government felt that I was disloyal and part of the enemy," he told filmmaker Ken Burns for his 2007 PBS documentary, "The War." "And I wanted to be able to demonstrate not only to my government but to my neighbors that I was a good American."

As a sergeant with the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Inouye led an assault in Italy's Po Valley against the Germans on April 21, 1945. He was shot in the stomach but kept creeping toward two machine gun nests, destroying both with grenades and rifle fire.

Then a German rifle grenade fired from 10 yards away shattered and severed his right arm.

"I looked at it, stunned and disbelieving. It dangled there by a few bloody shreds of tissue, my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore," Inouye and coauthor Lawrence Elliott wrote in his 1967 autobiography, "Journey to Washington."

Inouye pried his own live grenade out of his right hand and threw it at the German gunman, who was killed by the explosion. He continued firing his gun until he was shot in the right leg and knocked down the hillside. Badly wounded, he ordered his men to keep attacking.

On May 27, 1947, Inouye was honorably discharged with the rank of captain and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, to go with a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and 12 other citations. In 2000, President Clinton upgraded his cross and other medals won by Japanese Americans to the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award.

Despite those tributes, the honor Inouye most often displayed was a pin denoting his receipt of the Good Conduct Medal as a teenage private.

"You don't really earn a Purple Heart," he recalled in 2010. "The enemy shoots you — you try to avoid it." The Medal of Honor, he continued, "was temporary insanity. I look at the citation and I say, 'No, I couldn't have done that.'"

But "to behave yourself among men, older men, it takes special effort. And I did not want to dishonor my family."

He returned to Hawaii, where he earned a bachelor's in government and economics from the University of Hawaii in 1950. After receiving his law degree from George Washington University in 1952, he worked as a prosecutor for the city of Honolulu, and soon became active in politics.

His congressional achievements included working with fellow Hawaii Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka to win passage of a congressional resolution, signed by Clinton in 1993, formally apologizing for the U.S. government's role in the 1893 overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii.

In 2006, Inouye's wife of 57 years, the former Margaret Shinobu Awamura, died of cancer. Two years later he married Irene Hirano, president and founding chief executive officer of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Besides his wife, Inouye is survived by a son from his first marriage, Daniel Jr., who is a guitarist and lobbyist; a granddaughter and a stepdaughter.

When asked in recent days how he wanted to be remembered, Inouye said, according to his office: "I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK."

ken.dilanian@latimes.com

michael.memoli@latimes.com