Bob Dole Became War Hero, Senate Leader

Kansas native survived combat wounds to earn presidential nomination
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2021 12:20 PM CST
Bob Dole, 98, Was a Survivor in War, Politics
Former Sen. Bob Dole, right, and his wife, Elizabeth Dole, acknowledge well-wishers during a Memorial Day ceremony in 2019 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Bob Dole, a product of Dust Bowl Kansas who became a war hero, Senate majority leader, and presidential nominee, died Sunday. He was 98. The announcement by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation said he died in his sleep but did not give the cause of death, the Washington Post reports. He revealed in February that he was beginning treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer. A Washington mainstay for decades, the Republican lawmaker evolved from an unyielding partisan to a statesman-like leader who sought compromises with Democrats. Later, he criticized his party as being too conservative. Dole was a hero to veterans, among others. One said in 2009: "I've been knowing him for a long time. Of course, I’ve never met him before."

Dole was born in a one-bedroom house in Russell, Kan., to a father, Doran, who ran a small dairy station and a mother, Bina, who sold sewing machines. When the dust storms shut down the economy, per the New York Times, the family moved to the basement and rented out the rest of the house. Dole worked at a drugstore soda fountain before borrowing money to attend the University of Kansas. After the US entered World War II, Dole joined the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps and became a second lieutenant after Officer Candidate School. Dole began his service as a star athlete who intended to become a surgeon. He came home after the war in a body cast, mostly paralyzed.

In April 1945, 24 days before the war in Europe ended, he was hit by fire of some sort during a battle in Italy, then lay wounded in the dirt. "Then the horror hit me—I can't feel anything below my neck!" he wrote in his memoir. "I didn't know it at the time, but whatever it was that hit me had ripped apart my shoulder, breaking my collarbone and my right arm, smashing down into my vertebrae, and damaging my spinal cord." After more than three years of surgery and recovery, Dole became a lawyer and politician in Kansas. His right hand was so injured that he was unable to perform some of the basics of politics, including shaking hands and attending political dinners; he was unable to cut his food with a knife, so he tried to eat at home.

story continues below

Dole not only reached the US Senate in 1969, but he was elected majority or minority leader from 1985 to 1996. He helped pass landmark legislation covering voting rights, Social Security, food stamps, child-nutrition programs, and the rights of the disabled, per the Wall Street Journal. As leader, he held meetings on his office balcony to enjoy the Washington view and work on his tan. Dole was President Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976 and the Republican presidential nominee in 1996. He lost both races. His wife, Elizabeth, was elected to the Senate after his retirement, in which he became a lobbyist and pitchman. After all he'd survived, he remained bitter toward some who had it easier than he did. "I trust in the hard way," he said when retiring from the Senate in 1996, "for little has come to me except in the hard way." (More obituary stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.