Former United States Senator, and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee who ran against Bill Clinton or President, and a World War II veteran, the iconic Bob Dole has passed away at age 98.
“It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” the Elizabeth Dole Foundation said in a statement Sunday.
In his memoir, “One Soldier’s Story,” Dole wrote that his experiences in World War II defined his life.
“Adversity can be a harsh teacher,” he wrote. “But its lessons often define our lives. As much as we may wish that we could go back and relive them, do things differently, make better, wiser decisions, we can’t change history. War is like that. You can rewrite it, attempt to infuse it with your own personal opinions, twist or spin it to make it more palatable, but eventually the truth will come out.”
As an Army officer in World War II, he was wounded and there were doubts he’d survive. His right arm was permanently disabled, but he adapted.
“If unable to reach voters with my right hand, I could always reach out with my left,” he wrote in “The Doles: Unlimited Partners,” a book he co-authored with his wife, Elizabeth, and Richard Norton Smith.
Bob graduated from college and while he was still in law schooo, won a seat in the Kansas state legislature. He won a seat in Congress in 1960 and went on to serve in the House until he was elected to the Senate in 1968.
Dole ran for President three times, he lost in the primaries in 1980 to Ronald Reagan and in 1988 to George H.W. Bush. He won the Republican Party nomination in 1996, but lost the general election to Bill Clinton.
“Those pivotal moments remain indelibly impressed in your heart and mind,” he wrote in “One Soldier’s Story.” “For me, the defining period in my life was not running for the highest office in the land. It started years earlier, in a foreign country, where hardly anyone knew my name.”
Robert Dole was born in a small town in Russell, Kansas on July 22, 1923.
His father, Doran, ran a local creamery, and his mother, Bina, occasionally sold Singer sewing machines door-to-door to make ends meet. He grew up with three siblings and, according to a timeline on the Dole Institute website, the four children shared a room, a bike and a pair of roller skates.
The following is from ABC News on Dole, it’s remarkable the life he lived:
His neighbors recalled him growing up as “an all-American boy,” according to his 1996 presidential campaign website. In school, he was an honor student, sports editor of his school newspaper and he lettered in football, basketball and track.
In 1941, he graduated from Russell High School and enrolled at the University of Kansas, becoming the first in his family to go to college — thanks to a $300 loan from a Russell banker.
A year into college, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Dole left the university in 1943 to enroll in the Army. He had hoped to become a doctor and trained in the medical corps at Camp Barkley in Texas, according to a Dole Institute timeline. He later attended Army Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia and, by the end of 1944, graduated as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.
In 1945, Dole was assigned to the 85th Regime, 10th Mountain Division. It was originally intended to be a group of “skiing soldiers” to fight the Germans in the snow and mountains. But Dole was wounded during “Operation Craftsmen,” a spring offensive in Italy that was meant to overtake German troops scattered in the hills and valleys of the Apennine Mountains and gain control of northern Italy.
Dole’s platoon was to take Hill 913. His fellow soldiers later described it as a “suicide mission.”
It was April, and a stone wall and a field of landmines trapped the Americans in an exposed area. A Nazi sniper, perched in a farmhouse, began firing at the battalion, according to Dole’s 1996 campaign website. The platoon leader was ordered to take out the sniper and gunners. But as Dole climbed a rocky field, his radio man was hit.
Dole crawled across the battlefield on his stomach and then pulled the wounded soldier into a foxhole. Seconds later, an exploding shell ripped into Dole’s right shoulder and back. His collarbone was shattered, part of his spine was smashed and his right arm was dangling from his side.
Lying facedown in the dirt, Dole recalled being unable to see or move his arms.
“I thought they were missing,” he said on his campaign website. He called for help, and two medics who tried to rescue him were gunned down. A sergeant eventually dragged him to safety.
Dole earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze Star, but doctors weren’t sure he’d survive. He was hospitalized for three years. He suffered infections, grueling therapy, several operations and in one instance developed a blood clot that nearly killed him.
Good Samaritans helped him. A surgeon performed several of Dole’s surgeries at no charge. Back home in Russell, the community collected money in a cigar box at the local drug store to help pay for his medical bills. Dole kept that cigar box, decades later, in his Senate office desk drawer.
He recovered sensation in most of his body and was able to walk, but his right arm was permanently disabled. He would often carry a pen in his right hand to prevent his fingers from splaying. He usually avoided shaking hands with his right hand.
“Coming back from a war is a longer journey than any plane flight home,” Dole wrote in a 2006 forward to “Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families.” “I sustained my own injuries in World War II; some of my wounds were obvious, some were not. Some wounds were healed more quickly than others. And though I was lucky to be surrounded by great doctors, wonderful family, and a more supportive community than anyone could reasonably ask for, that mental readjustment was no small task.”
In 1948, while still recovering, he married Phyllis Holden, an occupational therapist from New Hampshire. They met during his last months of treatment at a hospital dance and married three months later.
His hopes of becoming a physician dashed, he set his sights on becoming a lawyer.
“Maybe I couldn’t use my hand, I told myself, but I could develop my mind,” he wrote in “The Doles: Unlimited Partners.”
He first enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson on the GI Bill, and a year later transferred to Washburn University in his home state of Kansas. He graduated in 1952.
You can read more from our friends at ABC News on this remarkable American.