WASHINGTON - With reverential words and warm memories, President Obama on Friday led the admirers paying tribute to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a war hero and senator for 50 years who was hailed for his leadership and modesty. Obama said Inouye was the one who "hinted to me what might be possible in my own life."

"For him freedom and dignity were not abstractions," Obama said at the National Cathedral service. "They were values that he had bled for, ideas he sacrificed for."

Inouye, 88, died Monday of respiratory complications. He worked until mere minutes before his death, shaking hands with his friends and caressing the hands of his family in those final moments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at the service. Reid said the senator thanked his security detail and the doctors and nurses.

The tributes from the nation's political leaders were deeply personal. Vice President Biden said he remembered thinking of Inouye: "I wish I could be more like that man. He's a better man than I am."

Former President Bill Clinton described Inouye as "one of the most remarkable Americans I have ever known."

Inouye was the first Japanese American elected to both houses of Congress and the second-longest-serving senator in U.S. history. He was awarded a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, for bravery in World War II, including an effort that cost him his right arm.

His casket was carried into the cathedral by eight military pallbearers. Inouye's body will be returned to Hawaii on Saturday.