By GREG MARKLEY
Robert Joseph Dole passed away in his sleep at the age of 98. He leaves a powerful legacy as a war hero, congressman and senator who served the United States with honor and gratitude. He was known for his love of country support for his fellow veterans, and his keen sense of humor. He overcome incredible adversity in life with a smile on his face.
He was born and raised in the small town of Russell, Kansas. Never forgetting his roots, he listed his childhood home, 1035 North Maple, as his permanent residence throughout his political career. A star high school athlete, he was recruited by legendary Coach Phogg Allen to play basketball for perennial power Kansas where he enrolled as a pre-med student.
World War II ended his basketball career and his pre-med studies. Dole, with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, almost gave his life for his country in April of 1945. He was severely wounded in combat in 1945 when he was hit by a German shell in the upper back and right arm. The bomb shattered his collarbone and part of his spine. He was not expected to survive, much less live the incredible life we now celebrate. Through Kansas grit and determination, he went through agonizing months of rehabilitation much of which he did in his backyard at his home in Kansas. He permanently lost the use of his right arm. He would always shake hands with his left hand, something he learned to do so as not to make the people he met feel uncomfortable.
Dole realizing that his dreams of becoming a doctor were no longer viable, he put himself through law school and returned to Russell to set up his law practice. From this small town in Kansas, he became an important national political figure for decades. After eight years in the House, he served as United States Senator from Kansas from 1969 to 1995. Ten of those years he was the Republican leader, both as the Minority and Majority Leader, respectively. He served as Republican National Chairman under Richard Nixon from 1971 to 1973. He was Gerald Ford’s Vice Presidential pick in 1976 and he was the Republican nominee for president in 1996.
I had the good fortune to shake his left hand on many occasions. His family and my family became good friends when he was chairman of the Republican National Committee, and my father was state committeeman for Alabama. In 1996, I was extremely honored when he asked me to be his state chairman for his Presidential campaign. As a political mentor, he taught me that the party on the other side of the aisle was not our enemy, but as public servants we must work together to do what is right for the people of Alabama.
His exemplary service to our country was praised by Democrats and Republicans alike, which is a rarity in these hyper partisan times: “Senator Bob Dole dedicated himself to the American experiment and its deepest ideals. Today, we should reflect on service to one another and commit to following the example he set for America. Judy and I join the nation in mourning the passing of an extraordinary American life,” posted Republican House Leader Representative Kevin McCarthy (R) California.
Democratic House Majority Whip Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina wrote, “I am saddened to learn of Bob Dole’s passing. He was a true statesman who served his country with distinction for 79 years. I respected his character and commitment to American ideals. Our country has lost one of its great champions.”
The “Greatest Generation” in America is slowly, sadly becoming a memory. What members of that generation did on the beaches of Omaha and Utah during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, on D-Day is nothing short of incredible. Bob Dole was the embodiment of the “Greatest Generation.” . As Lee Greenwood so aptly eulogized at his memorial service “Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God Bess The USA.” Bob Dole will be sorely missed but must never be forgotten.
Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 12 years. firstname.lastname@example.org.