WASHINGTON — Retired Sen. Daniel Akaka, the first Native Hawaiian to serve in Congress, died Friday at age 93, the Associated Press reported.
Akaka, a Democrat from Honolulu, served more than 35 years in Congress as a House member and senator before retiring in early 2013 after choosing not to run for re-election.
The former senator, who served in the Army during World War II, rose to become chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and was a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq.
Because of Akaka, his home-state colleague — the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who lost an arm fighting in Europe during World War II — was finally awarded a Medal of Honor in 2000, along with 21 other Asian-American veterans of the war. Akaka sponsored a 1996 bill to bestow the belated honors on the men.
Akaka also served as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, where he fought for federal recognition for Native Hawaiians. In 1993, former President Bill Clinton signed a resolution sponsored by Akaka that officially apologized for the U.S.-led rebellion to overthrow former Hawaiian ruler Queen Liliuokalani in the 19th century.
"Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka embodied the aloha spirit," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said in a statement Friday. "He dedicated his life to serving the people of Hawaii as an educator, and in the U.S. Army, state government, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate. In Congress, Senator Akaka's care, empathy, and collegiality served as an example for us all."
Akaka earned degrees in education, working as a high school teacher, vice principal and principal before entering politics, according to the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress. Once in office, he worked to increase federal funds for education.
Akaka was born in Honolulu in 1924 to a Native Hawaiian mother and a Hawaiian-Chinese father. He is survived by his wife, Millie, and five children.