Senator Bob Dole, 1923 – 2021

Bob Dole, decorated WWII veteran, Senator, Presidential candidate, died today in his sleep at the age of 98.

Bob Dole represented Kansas in the United States Senate from 1969 to 1996. He was the Republican Leader of the United States Senate during the final 11 years of his tenure, including three nonconsecutive years as Senate Majority Leader. Prior to his 27 years in the Senate, he served in the United States House of Representatives from 1961 to 1969. Dole was also the Republican presidential nominee in the 1996 election and the vice presidential nominee in the 1976 election.

The story of his WWII service is extraordinary. As outlined by Wikipedia:

In 1942, Dole joined the United States Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps to fight in World War II, becoming a second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. In April 1945, while engaged in combat near Castel d’Aiano in the Apennine mountains southwest of Bologna, Italy, Dole was seriously wounded by a German shell that struck his upper back and right arm, shattering his collarbone and part of his spine. “I lay face down in the dirt,” Dole said. “I could not see or move my arms. I thought they were missing.” As Lee Sandlin describes, when fellow soldiers saw the extent of his injuries, they believed all they could do was “give him the largest dose of morphine they dared and write an ‘M’ for ‘morphine’ on his forehead in his own blood, so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.”

Dole was paralyzed from the neck down and transported to a military hospital near Kansas, expected to die. Suffering blood clots, a life-threatening infection and a fever of almost 109 degrees; after large doses of penicillin were not successful, he overcame the infection with the administration of streptomycin, which at the time was still an experimental drug.

He remained despondent, “not ready to accept the fact that my life would be changed forever”. He was encouraged to see Hampar Kelikian, an orthopedist in Chicago who had been working with veterans returning from war. Although during their first meeting Kelikian told Dole that he would never be able to recover fully, the encounter changed Dole’s outlook on life, who years later wrote of Kelikian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, “Kelikian inspired me to focus on what I had left and what I could do with it, rather than complaining what had been lost.” Dr. K, as Dole later came to affectionately call him, operated on him seven times, free of charge, and had, in Dole’s words, “an impact on my life second only to my family”.

Dole was decorated three times, receiving two Purple Hearts for his injuries, and the Bronze Star with “V” Device for valor for his attempt to assist a downed radioman. The injuries left him with limited mobility in his right arm and numbness in his left arm. He minimized the effect in public by keeping a pen in his right hand, and learned to write with his left hand. In 1947, he was medically discharged from the Army as a captain.

“If you’re hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate. You’ll get the same kind of feeling and you won’t have to pay.”

Senator Bob Dole

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