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‘That man never quit fighting’: Remembering Bob Dole’s service and impact on DC veterans

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao

Bob Dole, who overcame disabling war wounds to become a sharp-tongued Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate and then a symbol and celebrant of his dwindling generation of World War II veterans, has died. He was 98.

If it wasn’t for Dole, a former Senator from Kansas and WWII veteran, and his efforts to build the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, the iconic structure may not exist today.

Dole helped raise $200 million for the memorial. After it was built, it’s here where he’d spend eight hours a day in the hot summer sun for his final mission: greeting as many veterans as possible.

“He saw people and really cared about his fellow citizens,” said Holly Rotondi, the Executive Director of Friends of the National WWII Memorial. “There were groups trying to stop that memorial, the “save the mall people” who said we shouldn’t be building memorials on the mall and he would chargeback with, ‘we saved a lot of things including the mall. And we deserve our place here.’ He really fought for that place on the mall which is the most beautiful and appropriate place for that memorial and I think he felt his final mission was to greet as many WWII veterans as possible. He really wanted to welcome people to that memorial to realize what it means what his generation sacrificed for the country and the world and it meant something so special for him to be there.”

The National Honor Flight Network has flown in 250,000 veterans to visit the veteran memorials in Washington, D.C. Jeff Miller, the Co-Founder of Honor Flight Network, says Dole was integral.

“He met most of them,” said Miller. “When they saw Senator Dole they would light up. He didn’t want some group picture with 200 veterans. He wanted to meet every single one of them to hear their story and exchange some stories with them. Bob Dole, he just epitomized that whole generation.”

“He was that generation. Those of us who had fathers that age and mothers that were involved in it, we got an extra day with them when we were around Bob and Elizabeth Dole. What he really wanted to do was make veterans’ lives better.”

As for Bob Dole’s and his wife’s Elizabeth Dole’s reputation on Capitol Hill, it was second to none.

“He and Elizabeth were a team and they were like the first celebrity power couple in Washington,” said Elaine Chao, who served as U.S. Secretary of Labor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation. “And I remember as a young pup just entering the federal government it was so inspiring to see the two of them. Bob Dole as we know has proven his bravery on the battlefields of WWII. He sustained very, very heavy injuries from which he suffered and endured for the rest of his life. And as Senate Majority Leader he was a master of the process. And he knew how important it was to bring people together to forge a consensus to proceed forward.”

Chao added Dole was instrumental in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I have great admiration for Secretary and Senator Elizabeth Dole. She was my first boss in Washington. And at that time we forget it was so unusual to have a female boss. And she was among the very first female cabinet members. And she mentored a lot of young women like myself – letting us into the ranks of government, appointing us to important positions of responsibility and management positions. Elizabeth played a very large part in my career and personal and career development and she was such an incredible soulmate and also partner to Senator Bob Dole.”

“That was something very important to him as someone who was permanently disabled from WWII,” said William B. Lacy, the Director Emeritus of Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. “And his very first speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1969 was about disabilities. He worked for veterans, farmers, seniors. He did something for almost everybody. You can look at the social security agreement that was made under President Reagan that saved social security. The ADA. You can look at his efforts to get a balanced budget amendment – passing the U.S. Senate by one vote. His accomplishments are extraordinary long. He was very clearly one of the most important legislators of the last half of the last decade.”

“What we try to do is we try to teach young people that it’s ok to be like people like Bob Dole, Ted Kennedy and George McGovern and others who reached across the aisle and accomplished things that were important to our country,” added Lacy. “And we don’t see that very much anymore these days. It’s something Bob Dole and other giants of the Senate did on an almost daily basis. If the greatest generation could put our country first perhaps we could do a better job of that as well.”

“He really set a tone of leadership that we miss today,” said Judd Gregg, a former Governor and U.S. Senator from New Hampshire who ran Dole’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire. “It was a leadership that understands you have to get along with the folks across the aisle and in order to get things done, you have to compromise without compromising your principles. I think this country really needs to look at his career and how he handled himself and what he did to lead this nation. He had a real strong anchor in where America should go and how it should be led. We need more people like Bob Dole right now. We need them right now. It would be great if we had a few Bob Dole’s running this country today.”

During this past Veterans Day, Mr. Dole at the age of 98, didn’t visit the WWII Memorial in person. Instead, he called the Honor Flight Network and they passed the phone around to veterans who visited the memorial that day.

“I was worried that was going to be the last time and it turns out it was, but that man never quit fighting,” said Miller. “He spent his life living for others. All up until the end.”

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