Americans love Bob Dole. There are those that are drawn to his humor. There are those that know him from his presidential campaign. There are others who know his work on behalf of the disabled. Many more still know him for his leadership in the Senate. Kansans know him as the boy from Russell, the lawyer, their congressman and their senator.
I know him as a mentor, a friend, a brother.
Then there are those that know him from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There are those that know him for his work on behalf of veterans, those that know him from the Army and from the hospital where he recovered from his war wounds.
It is the ones who know him from the World War II Memorial that I want to discuss here. It is the men and women of the Greatest Generation that know Bob Dole from the National Mall, on a sunny day in the nation’s capital, when a tour bus pulls up and the heroes arrive.
Bob and Elizabeth are there to greet them. Word spreads. A crowd forms. The excitement and the respect are palpable.
Bob Dole is one of them. Like them, he sacrificed for the preservation of our nation. He went on to give his life to public service, and, when most would have faded from the causes and the headlines, he returns to serve again, this time to honor his generation with a long overdue recognition of their courage before it was too late.
It is hard to imagine resistance to this memorial, but there was. Disparate groups had their own ideas about what the memorial should look like, where it should be. Mr. Dole had to fight it in court and before Congress.
There were challenges in securing donations to build the memorial. Mr. Dole went to California to visit a Hollywood executive that was thought to be writing a large check for the effort but who instead said he had other “priorities” for his money.
Bob said to him, “When I was 22, I had other priorities, too. I went to war.”
In raising the funds for this memorial and shepherding it to completion, Bob Dole is responsible for this recognition of the Greatest Generation of farm boys and city boys, factory workers and girls next door who fought for the freedom and liberation of people they had never met.
Many travel to this monument and it gives them a reason to share their stories, some for the first time. Bob Dole put it best himself when he said, “Many bring with them intensely personal memories to lay on history’s altar. They come like pilgrims of old, accompanied by children or grandchildren. Some arrive on Honor Flights, cheered by people they have never met. Their step may be slowed, but their pride is as robust as their patriotism. To stand within these embracing arms of stone is to kindle memories of distant battlefields, bottomless seas and endless skies. It invites both reflection and renewal.”
Bob Dole, purveyor of reflection and renewal, shakes hands, takes photos, inspires younger generations in a matter of minutes on the National Mall at 90 years old.
What kind of man can make this reverence a reality? What kind of man leaves this as his wake?
A great man, Bob Dole, who loves America.
I know I speak for Kansans, and the rest of an admiring nation when I say, “Happy birthday, Sen. Dole. We love you!”