Today, the nation will bear witness to a solemn ceremony reserved for America’s most prestigious citizens, as Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii will lie in state for public viewing in the Capitol Rotunda. Sen. Inouye, a war hero and beloved statesman, passed away on Monday at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He was 88.
The center of the Capitol Rotunda, also the center of the capital city, is a fitting place for loved ones, colleagues and the American people to pay their respects to the distinguished gentleman from the Aloha State.
Sen. Inouye was the most senior member of the U.S. Senate, making him its president pro-tempore and putting him third in the line of succession to the presidency. Long before he walked the halls of Congress, Inouye served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II and earned the nation's highest award for military bravery, the Medal of Honor. Unable to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor due to injuries sustained during the war, he went into law and politics, representing Hawaii in Congress from its very first day in the union. In Washington, he rose to become chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations. (Sen. Inouye’s full biography is available here.)
Today, he becomes the first person to lie in state since President Gerald Ford in December 2006. This tradition began in 1852 with Henry Clay of Kentucky, who served as Speaker of the House and was a member of the Senate as well. While this honor, which is subject to approval by both houses of Congress, is typically bestowed on members of the government, it has not been limited to them. Jacob Joseph Chestnut and John Michael Gibson, United States Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty, laid in honor in the Rotunda on July 28, 1998. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks laid in honor in October 2005.
Dating back to April 1865, the caskets at most of these services have rested on the catafalque constructed for the coffin of Abraham Lincoln (photo above). The Lincoln catafalque, which has been stored underneath the Capitol in the tomb that was once reserved for George Washington, is a bier constructed of pine boards covered with fabric.
Sen. Inouye’s arrival to the Capitol this morning will be marked by a private ceremony beginning at 10:00 a.m., when congressional leaders will speak prior to the laying of wreaths. As is tradition, all participants will stand during this ceremony. Sen. Inouye’s casket will be available for public viewing from noon to 8:00 p.m. ET. “It will be our honor,” Speaker Boehner said on Tuesday, “to join the American people in paying final respects to this great senator and statesman.”