Saturday, September 11, 2004

Akaka proud
of military work

Veterans services are a key
concern for the 80-year-old senator

As he turns 80, Sen. Daniel Akaka has retirement on his mind, but certainly not his own.

While enthusiastically describing his work on military retirement issues as a member of the Senate Veterans Committee, Hawaii's junior senator is quick to add, "I should tell you I'm looking forward to running in 2006."

Akaka, a World War II veteran like fellow octogenarian Sen. Daniel Inouye who is running for re-election this year, said he is concerned as a member of the Senate Veterans Committee with "the third R" -- retirement -- because he wants to help soldiers make a "seamless" transition from active duty to veterans services.

That is just one of several things Akaka still wants to accomplish as Hawaii's junior Democratic senator, including passage of the Hawaiian recognition bill that bears his name, benefits for Filipino veterans and laws that will help retain military and other government workers.

Right now, though, Akaka has other things to consider: his Sept. 11 birthday, which has never been quite the same since 2001; recovering from an operation; and his family.

Akaka says he is proud of the accomplishments of his five children, that he wouldn't be where he is without Millie, his wife of 56 years, and he brags a bit about his 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His strong sense of family came through when he discussed his Senate career and future plans in an interview for his 80th birthday with the Associated Press.

The interview had to be conducted by telephone because Akaka was recovering at home from a skin graft that became necessary after he was struck on the leg by an errant golf ball. The wound, received at a charity tournament in Northern Virginia in July, had failed to heal.

Daniel Kahikina Akaka, known to family and close friends as Danny, has served in the U.S. Senate since he was appointed to replace the late Spark Matsunaga in 1990.

The former educator and Kawaiaha'o Church choirmaster said that other than his ankle injury, he is in good health.

He said he is awaiting word from his doctors on when he can move about again and return to Washington.

In the meantime, his Honolulu office takes a lot of homework to his Honolulu home, where he is recuperating. "I've been keeping busy keeping up, keeping track, reviewing things and deciding things," he said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Akaka's birthday has been observed under a shadow. His staff was preparing to set out food and cake in his Washington office that day, but after the terrorists attacks in New York and Washington, the Capitol was evacuated.

"The party ended with the attacks, and no one ate the cake," Akaka said, adding that his two birthday observances since then have been low-key.

"There are many things I would like to continue to work on that would benefit Hawaii and the country," Akaka said in explaining his decision to seek re-election.

"The native Hawaiian bill is still pending and is something I will continue to work on," he said of the bill he introduced that would provide federal recognition to native Hawaiians and is commonly known as the Akaka Bill.

But he spends more time talking about his efforts on behalf of the military as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"We have been working on recruitment and retention of military personnel and have concluded some of that effort, particularly building housing for military families," he said.

Akaka's proudest achievement, he said, is getting the Medal of Honor for 22 WWII veterans of the 100th Infantry Regiment and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, including Hawaii's senior senator, Inouye.

"The two units had received the most Purple Hearts but only one Medal of Honor," he said. "I thought they deserved more."

Akaka wants to be remembered as someone who served the people of Hawaii and tried to meet their needs.

"Never in my political career have I had a personal interest," he said. "My interest was for the people. I'm not doing this for me. I like this approach and work by it. I want the people to think I did well."

Daniel Kahikina Akaka

>> Born: Sept. 11, 1924, in Honolulu

>> Family: Wife Mary Mildred (Millie), five children, 14 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren

>> Education: Kamehameha Schools for Boys, 1942; University of Hawaii, 1952 (Bachelor of Education), 1962 (Master of Education)

>> Public service: State Department of Education teacher (1953-60), vice principal (1960-63), principal (1963-69), chief program planner (1969-71); director, Hawaii Office of Economic Opportunity (1971-74); special assistant for human resources, Office of the Governor (1975-76)

>> Political career: U.S. House of Representatives (1976-90), U.S. Senate (1990-present)

>> Political highlights: Ranking member and former chairman, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support; ranking member, Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial Management, the Budget and International Security; ranking member, Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks; first U.S. senator of native Hawaiian ancestry and only Chinese-American member of the Senate



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