By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scores of members of the U.S. Congress put aside partisan fights on Thursday to gather in solemn tribute to Senator Daniel Inouye, who represented Hawaii in Congress since its statehood and received the rare honor of lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
A highly decorated World War Two veteran who lost an arm in battle, the Democrat who led the powerful Appropriations Committee was remembered as quiet, unassuming and genuine.
"Lord, we're grateful for the excellence that distinguished his significant career, the quiet grace and dignity with which he represented the Aloha State," Senate Chaplain Barry Black prayed as nearly every member of the U.S. Senate and many U.S. representatives gathered around the flag-draped casket.
Inouye died on Monday at the age of 88. He was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, the second-longest serving senator ever and third in the line of presidential succession as the Senate's senior member.
Inouye became Hawaii's first full-fledged member of the U.S. House of Representatives on August 21, 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962.
After nine consecutive Senate terms, he was the only member of Hawaii's original congressional delegation still serving on Capitol Hill. He was the highest-ranking elected Asian-American official in U.S. politics.
"He leaves behind a legacy of public leadership and private kindness that will not be forgotten as long as these walls stand," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said.
In what Republican House Speaker John Boehner called "a quiet ceremony for a quiet man," members of the U.S. armed services carried in and saluted Inouye's casket as many of his friends and colleagues placed their hands on their hearts.
Congressional leaders and Vice President Joe Biden, who served in the Senate with Inouye, later placed three wreaths around the casket.
The last U.S. dignitary to lie in state in the Rotunda was former U.S. President Gerald Ford, in 2006.
In a rare show of bipartsanship, Reid, Boehner and Biden recounted stories from Inouye's career in the military and in Congress, echoing each other in recalling his loyalty to the United States, genuineness and quiet presence that inspired respect.
"No one, no one, in the 40 years I served with him, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever once doubted he would do what he said," Biden said. "No one ever doubted his motive."
Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17, shortly after the 1941 Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. A son of a Japanese immigrant, Inouye had to petition the government for the right to serve in the U.S. military because he was declared an "enemy alien" for his Japanese heritage.
Inouye lost his right arm in battle in Italy in 1945, earning a Purple Heart. He also received the Medal of Honor, the highest award for military valor.
"Danny had the most fulsome embrace of life with one arm as any man could have with two," Biden said.
"He was, in every sense, the quintessential American."
Under Hawaii law, Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie will name a successor to fill Inouye's seat until a new senator is chosen in the 2014 general election.
Inouye will lie in state at the National Cathedral in Washington on Friday, and at Hawaii's state capitol in Honolulu on Saturday before a final memorial service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on Sunday.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Vicki Allen)