December 11th, 2012

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s colleagues are honoring him in speeches on the Senate floor in advance of his retirement in January.

The Hawaii Democrat is expected to take the floor on Wednesday to discuss his 22 years in the Senate and 14 years in the House in a farewell speech.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., spoke about Akaka on Tuesday.

From 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.

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 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.

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.

From 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.

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