Bob Dole (1923-2021): A Vet to Remember


“Veteran who gave his most for his country.”

Bob Dole said he wanted to be remembered that way. But for Bob Dole, giving “his most” included an almost impossible-to-remember-it-all list of accomplishments and sacrifices for our nation.

Dole was a severely wounded veteran who lost the use of his right arm in the Second World War after enlisting in 1942. Then he went into Kansas politics. In 1961, he was elected a congressman and in 1968 was elected senator, not retiring until 1996. He became one of the longest serving Republican senate majority leaders – 11 years.

In 1976 he was selected as President Ford’s vice-presidential nominee. He ran three times for President and in 1996, was the Republican nominee; he lost to Bill Clinton whom he then served as an ambassador-at-large in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other hot spots. For the next 25 years Dole was the national voice for veteran services. He helped design, build and then be host at the massive World War II memorial on Washington D.C.’s National Mall. Dole died at 98 in his sleep on Dec. 5.

Among his proudest accomplishments Dole told USA Today in 2016, was his bilateral agreements negotiated in the senate. Those include the extension of the Social Security System in 1983 and working closely with liberal Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy (MA) in 1990 to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dole then spear-headed the passage of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday legislation. He headed investigations into substandard conditions at Walter Reed Hospital – where he had spent months as a patient himself – and in 2000 issued a report with other former Senate leaders from both parties on how to improve the nation’s health care system. He personally greeted hundreds of World War II vets at the memorial, whose trips he helped to sponsor through the Honor Flight Network he helped to found.

Dole and his second wife Sen. Elizabeth Dole (85), lived in the Watergate complex in a two-story unit they customized overlooking the Potomac. They led an active social life there with Watergate neighbors Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice among many others. Elizabeth Dole – a Harvard-educated lawyer – also held various important positions herself as Secretary of Transportation for President Reagan, Secretary of Labor for President George Bush and Head of the International Red Cross; she was elected Senator from North Carolina from 2003-2009. She was known for always wearing elegant suits and having a perfect coiffure; together they were known as a D.C. glamorous power couple.

Noted for his sharp wit, self-effacing humor, and friendliness Dole is remembered for embodying a bygone bipartisan spirit, putting country over party.

Susan Bodiker, staff writer for The Georgetowner recalls this touching encounter with Dole at National Airport: “My son [Marshall] was nine or ten at the time and I had taken him to National Airport for an “unaccompanied minor” trip to Miami to see his father at Christmas. Then as now, we watched a lot of news and we saw the former senator as he and his wife were walking toward the gate of a flight headed to another Florida location. Marshall whispered, “There’s Bob Dole!” Dole stopped (his wife kept walking), looked towards the source of the sound and winked at my son. It was such a sweet moment. I loved him for it.”

Dole is said to be an icon of “the American century.” After retiring from the Senate in 1996, he took on another decade of leading projects to help disabled veterans. But by 2016 the Republican leader who became known for his bipartisan deals, revealed in various interviews that he was concerned about the country’s political polarization. “I do believe we’ve lost something and I don’t know how you correct it.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ordered the lowering of flags in Dole’s honor.

 

 

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