U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka delivered his farewell address Wednesday on the floor of the United States Senate.
Akaka’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, before I begin, I would like to take a moment to wish my good friend, my colleague of 36 years, my brother, Dan Inouye, Hawaii’s senior Senator, a speedy recovery and return to the Senate.
Mr. President, I rise today to say aloha to this institution. I have been honored to be a member of the United States Senate for 22 years. It has been an incredible journey that I never imagined.
As a senior in high school going to Kamehameha School for Boys, which was noted as a military school, my life was changed forever when I saw Japanese fighter planes attacking Pearl Harbor. Like most men in my generation, I joined the war effort. My path was forever altered.
When the war ended, I believe I was suffering from PTSD.
It was an act of Congress that allowed me, and the veterans of my generation, to build successful new lives.
Congress passed the G.I. Bill. And I say with certainty that I would not be standing here before you today without the opportunity the G.I. gave me, not only to get an education, but to have structure and a path forward, and the feeling that there was a way for me to help people.
This proved to me that when Congress acts responsibly, it can build a better America.
That is why, when I was blessed with the opportunity to lead the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I dedicated myself to helping our service members and veterans and their families, and worked with my colleagues to expand VA services and pass a new 21st Century G.I. Bill.
So I want to take this moment to urge all of my colleagues, and all of the incoming Senators and Representatives: do everything you can for our veterans and their families, because we asked them to sacrifice so much for us.
They put their lives on the line while their wives and husbands watched over their families. Caring for them is one of our most sacred obligations as a nation.
And not everyone on the front lines making our nation stronger wears a uniform.
In many critical fields, the federal government struggles to compete with the private sector to recruit and retain the skilled people our nation needs: experts in cybersecurity and intelligence analysis, doctors and nurses to care for our wounded warriors, accountants to protect taxpayers during billion dollar defense acquisitions. These are just a few examples.
After I leave the Senate, it is my hope that other members will continue to focus on making the federal government an employer of choice. We need the best and brightest working for our nation.
The work of the United States Congress will never end. But careers come to a close. Like the great men whose names are etched here in this desk, I am humbled to know I have left my mark on this institution.
I am proud to be the first Native Hawaiian ever to serve in the Senate, just as I am so proud to be one of the three U.S. Army World War II veterans who remain in the Senate today.
The United States is a great country. One of the things that makes us so great is that, though we have made mistakes, we change, we correct them, we right past wrongs.
It is our responsibility as a nation to do right by America’s Native people, those who exercised sovereignty on lands that later became part of the United States. While we can never change the past, we have the power to change the future.
Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure that my colleagues understand the federal relationship with Native peoples, and its origins in the Constitution.
The United States’ policy of supporting self-determination and self-governance for indigenous peoples leads to Native self-sufficiency, resulting in our continued ability to be productive and contribute to the well-being of our families, our communities, and our great nation.
That is why I worked to secure parity in federal policy for my people, the Native Hawaiians.
The United States has recognized hundreds of Alaska Native and American Indian communities. It is long past time for the Native Hawaiian people to have the same rights, the same privileges, and the same opportunities as every other federally-recognized Native people.
For more than 12 years, I have worked with the Native Hawaiian community and many others to develop the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which has the strong support of the Hawaii’s legislature and governor as the best path forward towards reconciliation.
My bill has encountered many challenges, but it is pono, it is right, and it is long overdue. Although I will not be the bill’s sponsor in the 113th Congress, it will forever bear my highest aspirations and heartfelt commitment to the Native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States of America.
I know I am just one in a long line working to ensure that our language, our culture, and our people continue to thrive for generations to come.
Hawaii has so much to teach the world and this institution. In Congress and in our Nation, we are truly all together, in the same canoe. If we paddle together, in unison, we can travel great distances. If the two sides of the canoe paddle in opposite directions, we will only go in circles. I urge my colleagues to take this traditional Hawaiian symbol to heart, and put the American people first, by working together.
I want to say mahalo nui loa, thank you very much, to my incredible staff. After 36 years there are far too many individuals to name, so I will just thank my all of my current and former staff members in my Senate and House offices, and on my committees, including Indian Affairs, Veterans’ Affairs, and subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia.
I want to thank the hundreds of employees who work for the Architect of the Capitol and the Sergeant at Arms. Without the hard work they do every day, we could not do what we do in the Senate.
Mahalo, thank you, to the floor and leadership staff.
I also want to thank Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who has provided me so much guidance and strength, and has done more to bring the two sides of this chamber together and find common ground than just about anyone.
And there is no one I owe more to than my lovely wife of 65 years, Millie. She is literally there for me whenever I need her.
Nearly every day that I have served in the Senate for the past 22 years, Millie has come to the office with me. She helps me greet constituents, she makes me lunch, she keeps me focused, and she makes sure I know what is happening back home.
She means the world to me. Every honor I have received belongs to her and my family. This speech is their farewell speech too. Mahalo Millie and my ohana, my family.
In life, there are seasons.
While leaving Congress is bittersweet, I am looking forward to spending more time with our five children. Getting to know our fifteen grandchildren, and, can you believe this, we are expecting our sixteenth GREAT grandchild next year. And I will be home to see it.
And I am looking forward to speaking with students and mentoring up and coming leaders, and visiting places in Hawaii that I have worked for over my career.
My goal was to bring the spirit of aloha to our nation’s capital in everything I do. In Hawaii, we look out for one another, we work together, and we treat each other with respect. I hope I succeeded in sharing a little bit of Hawaii with all of you.
As I come to the end of 22 years in this chamber, and a total of 36 years serving in Congress, I offer my profound gratitude and humble thanks to the people of Hawaii for giving me the opportunity to serve them for so many years.
It truly was the experience of a lifetime. All I ever wanted was to be able to help people, and you gave me that opportunity. Mahalo nui loa, thank you very much.
In Hawaii, when we part, we don’t like to say goodbye. Instead, we say “a hui hou,” which means “until we meet again.”
Though I am retiring, I see this as the start of a new chapter, a new season.
And I am blessed have made friendships and partnerships that will last forever.
God bless Hawaii, and God bless the United States of America, with the spirit of aloha.
A hui hou.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
SEN. DANIEL K. INOUYE:
Mr. President, today I would like to honor the legacy and service of my colleague and dear friend, Senator Daniel K. Akaka.
My brother, Senator Daniel Akaka, has been my friend and partner in Washington for 36 years.
During that time, he has fought hard for Native Hawaiians, veterans, and the needs of Hawaii.
I am sad at the thought of the Senate without him and I am sorry I am unable to join him on the floor today.
Dan Akaka is the spirit of aloha.
I have always relied on his even keel and hard work to help me represent the people of Hawaii. And I have never, ever heard him utter a harsh word or do anything to harm another person.
There are few words to describe a kind man of his stature, but I assure you, Hawaii and this nation are better because of his work.
On behalf of the people of Hawaii, thank you Danny. There will never be another like you.
Mr. President, I ask that my statement be entered into the record.
MAJORITY LEADER SEN. HARRY REID:
Mr. President, I’d like to spend a little bit today talking about the junior senator from Hawaii, Daniel Akaka, as he retires from a life dedicated to his community and to his country.
Senator Akaka’s service to his nation began during wartime, when he was just a teenager, when he graduated from high school and the war was ongoing, and of course people were watching Hawaii very closely because they had such a huge Asian population, a huge Japanese American population, so it was watched very, very closely, and for reasons that really weren’t valid, but that’s what we did then.
So Dan Akaka spent two years as a civilian worker with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and two years of active duty in the U.S. Army. And what his duties were basically, as I recall having talked to Dan Akaka, is they were there to protect the water in Honolulu. (NOTE: These were his duties as a civilian in the Army Corps; when he went on active duty he was deployed in the Pacific.)
After the war, Dan attended the University of Hawaii using the original G.I. Bill. Years later he would receive his master’s degree from the University of Hawaii as well as the bachelor’s degree.
Senator Akaka believes he would never become a United States Senator if not for the G.I. benefits he received through of his service in the military.
That’s why as a member and past chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs committee, he has worked to make important improvements to the 21st Century G.I. Bill of Rights. Today’s G.I. bill, work done by Jim Webb, is modeled after the education opportunity program that Dan took advantage of when he was just a young boy.
Senator Akaka was chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs committee from 2007 to 2010, as thousands and thousands Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were coming home from combat. As democrats collectively worked to bring our troops home from Iraq, Dan Akaka labored with the VA to meet the needs and challenges of a new generation of veterans. The 21st Century G.I. Bill ensures those veterans get the educational opportunities they deserve.
He so valued his own education, he went on to serve his community as a teacher after he graduated from college. He became a principal, worked for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the Hawaii Office of Economic Opportunity. He served 14 years in the United States House of Representatives, before he was appointed to the Senate in 1990. He won election to the Senate later that year.
As chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Dan has been a strong voice and tireless advocate for Native Americans. He has taught us all about history, history of Hawaii and its native communities, as well as issues facing indigenous Hawaiians today. Senator Akaka is a descendent of Native Hawaiians. He’s 75 percent Hawaiian. He has Hawaiians on both sides of his family. He’s very, very proud of his heritage. Dan was the first Native Hawaiian in the Senate and the first native person to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. (NOTE: Senator Akaka is the first Native Hawaiian, but the second Native American to chair the committee after Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell)
He is also a deeply religious man. Comes from a strong faith tradition. His devout mother taught her children a custom of charity. His mother was really a soft touch. Anyone coming by with a sad story, she would invite them in. Sometimes her hospitality would only allow her to give them something to drink. His family was very poor growing up but Dan was able to work through this. But even if his mother had spent the grocery money for the month, strangers were always welcome at her table.
A friend of Dan’s brother came to Hawaii for a very brief period of time from Chicago. She took him in. He never left. He basically was raised in the Akaka home. A boy named Anthony from Chicago, as I indicated, came to visit Dan’s brother, and he never left. Anthony became such a part of that family that before he died he wanted to make sure that he was buried in Hawaii. He wanted to be buried with Dan’s siblings and family in Hawaii. And he was.
Senator Akaka served as choir director of the Hawaiian Christian’s mother church (NOTE: Reference to Kawaiahao church) where his brother was minister. His brother was minister there for some 17 years. He is still a member of that church, Senator Akaka is. He’s blessed with a wonderful family as well as a rewarding career. He and his wife Millie have 5 children, 15 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren. (NOTE: Senator and Mrs. Akaka are expecting their 16th great grandchild next year)
He has served his constituents with distinction and served not only his constituents, the State of Hawaii, but our country with distinction. He has enjoyed a long and productive career and his presence in the United States Senate will be missed. I offer congratulations to Senator Akaka on his dedicated military and public service and wish him and Millie happiness in their retirement.
MAJORITY WHIP SEN. DICK DURBIN:
Let me also add my comments in chorus to what the Majority Leader said about Senator Dan Akaka of Hawaii.
I came to know him, and I have spoken about this on the floor. He and Millie are the perfect Senate family. They have devoted a major part of their lives to serving Hawaii and serving in the national interest.
The legacy that Senator Akaka leaves behind is substantial when it comes to legislation, particularly in helping veterans and agricultural issues.
But more importantly what Dan Akaka leaves behind is a feeling of kinship and camaraderie which he has with so many members of the senate.
He is a stalwart of the Senate Prayer Breakfast, leading the singing every Wednesday morning. It is heartfelt and very genuine.
As Senator Reid mentioned earlier, his family background in Hawaii, which he shared with us one afternoon at a lunch, is a tradition of giving and hospitality which you find built in to Danny Akaka.
We’re going to miss him.
SEN. TOM HARKIN:
Mr. President, we’re bidding farewell to one of our most respected and beloved members, Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, or as we all know him, “Danny.”
With his retirement, our friend is bringing to a close remarkable and distinguished career in public service spanning nearly seven decades. Having witnessed, as a 17-year-old boy, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he took a civilian job with the Army Corps of Engineers before joining the United States Army in 1945. We honor him, along with his senior colleague from Hawaii, Senator Inouye, and Senator Lautenberg, as the only veterans of the Second World War still serving in the Senate.
Not surprisingly, Senator Akaka has been a leader on veterans’ issues. He served as Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in the 110th and 111th Congresses, and he remained active on that committee despite relinquishing his chairmanship in the current Congress in order to chair the Committee on Indian Affairs.
We will not soon forget Senator Akaka’s retort when another Senator was holding up a package of veterans’ benefits, demanding that the costs be offset. Senator Akaka, calmly, very deliberately, argued that the costs did not need an offset because – quote – “the price has already been paid, many times over, by the service of the brave men and women who wore our nation’s uniform.” Needless to say, Senator Akaka carried the day.
Senator Akaka has played a leading role in demanding improvements in the handling of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries sustained by service men and women. And, in 2009, he joined with Senator Inouye in securing compensation for Filipino veterans of World War II who fought for the United States.
Senator Akaka is the only ethnic Native Hawaiian to serve in this body. Throughout his congressional career – including 14 years in the House and 22 years in the Senate – he has been a determined and passionate advocate for the people of his State of Hawaii. He has fought for legislation that would grant federal recognition to ethnic Native Hawaiians, the same recognition we have granted to American Indians and Native Alaskans. In 1993, President Clinton signed a resolution sponsored by Senator Akaka officially apologizing on behalf of the United States government for overthrowing Hawaii’s last monarch a century earlier.
Mr. President, in so many ways, Senator Akaka represents the Senate at its very best, the way it used to be in less partisan times. He works tirelessly behind the scenes. He shuns the media limelight. He prides himself on reaching across the aisle and forging honorable compromises. He is the ultimate gentleman, and his word is his bond.
Mr. President, across these many years, Danny Akaka has been a wonderful friend and colleague. Of course, that friendship will continue, but I will miss him here in the Senate. I join with the entire Senate family in wishing Danny and Millie all the best in the years ahead.
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