Sen. Bob Dole, WWII Veteran and Former Senate Majority Leader, Dead at 98

America lost an icon Sunday.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who overcame Dust Bowl struggles in the heartland and serious battle wounds in Italy to become the Senate majority leader, died Sunday morning.

Dole, who began treatment in February for stage 4 lung cancer, was 98.

A star athlete, he enrolled at the University of Kansas in 1941, but joined the military shortly after Pearl Harbor. As a U.S. Army officer in World War II, the Kansan lost most of the use of his right arm and hand after being wounded in 1945. Dole earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze Star, but he was hospitalized for three years. After infections, therapy, and several operations, he finally returned home to win a seat in the Kansas legislature before successfully running for the U.S. House and then U.S. Senate.

He often carried a pen in his right hand to prevent his fingers from splaying.

Dole represented the Sunflower State for eight years in the House of Representatives and nearly three decades in the upper chamber, including as party leader from 1985-96. He was instrumental in the overhaul of the nation’s tax code and rights of the disabled.

Dole was Gerald Ford’s vice presidential nominee in 1976 and ran in Republican presidential primaries in 1980 and 1988. He finally secured the GOP nomination in 1996, but fell short to then-President Bill Clinton. Months later, Clinton presented Dole with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dole was a driving force behind the creation of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, and he also helped start “Freedom Flights,” which bring World War II veterans to visit the Washington memorial built in their honor. As national chairman of the World War II Memorial Commission, he helped raise more than $197 million to construct a national memorial to honor the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during the war. Construction began in September 2001 and was completed in April 2004.

At the dedication ceremony, Dole spoke about the importance of remembering sacrifices made to uphold democracy.

“It is only fitting, when this memorial was opened to the public about a month ago, the very first visitors were school children,” Dole said. “For them, our war is ancient history and those who fought it are slightly ancient themselves.”

Three years ago yesterday, the 95-year-old captured national admiration when he rose from his wheelchair to salute the casket of fellow veteran and former President George H.W. Bush in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Also in 2018, he received the Congressional Gold Medal.

He was a strong conservative, but respected across the aisle, and missed, especially today.

“Adversity can be a harsh teacher,” he wrote of his war experiences in his memoir, One Soldier’s Story. “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.”

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