George Toshio Inouye was born in Pepeekeo, Hawaii in 1917, the eldest of seven children. After completing the eighth grade, he left school to help support his family. He was a field worker on the sugar plantation until he fell from a 25 foot embankment. Following his fall, Inouye moved to Hilo and lived with his aunt and uncle Kiyosaki who were owners of the Kiyosaki General Store. He was immediately put to work as a delivery boy. While working at the General Store, Inouye met his future wife, Mitsue “Mitzi” Yanabu, who worked as a sales clerk at the Pick ‘N Pay Market in Hilo.
Upon the United States’ entry into World War II, Inouye volunteered for the Army, joining the unit that eventually became the 100th Infantry Battalion. In Italy he served as a machine gunner on the front lines and was severely wounded twice during the Allied armies’ drive from Salerno to the battle of Mount Cassino. He spent two years recuperating from his injuries in hospitals in New York and later Menlo Park, California.
Despite requiring crutches, Inouye returned to Hilo between hospitalizations to wed Mitzi Yanabu. Following a brief honeymoon driving around the island of Hawaii and spending a few days in Kona, he returned to Menlo Park to continue his rehabilitation. During this last hospitalization, Inouye completed business courses which prepared him to start his own wholesale produce business.
After his discharge from the Army, Inouye returned to Hilo to take over the Kiyosaki General Store with his partner, Isamu Kanekuni, a 442nd veteran. They eventually changed the name of the company to the Veterans’ Produce Exchange. The business was completed destroyed by the 1960 tsunami which devastated downtown Hilo, but through will and determination and the assistance of the Small Business Administration, Inouye and Kanekuni rebuilt their business and achieved lasting success.
Outside of his business, Inouye was involved in many community organizations. Besides being an active member of Club 100, he served as the Hawaii State Commander for the Disabled American Veterans. Inouye was also active in the Hawaii Democratic Party and for many years was Representative and then Senator Daniel Inouye’s field representative on the island of Hawaii.
Despite his damaged leg, Inouye and his wife enjoyed ballroom dancing. In addition to being a good singer, he was also a talented public speaker who was often asked to serve as emcee at social functions.
George and Mitzi Inouye’s children – Kerry, Colleen Iwata, Newton and Eric – all live in Hilo.