Bob Dole: An American hero

Jack Kemp
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Posted: Jul 23, 2003 12:00 AM

In life, "It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood - who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worse, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

Those words by Teddy Roosevelt speak volumes about Bob Dole, who dared greatly and achieved much. On July 22, Dole celebrates his 80th birthday at the dedication ceremony of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics on the University of Kansas campus. It is appropriate that the institute bearing his name would be located in Kansas, for as Dole has often pointed out, "Anyone who wants to understand me must first understand Russell, Kan. It is my home, where my roots lie, and a constant source of strength."

Dole's life is a remarkable journey that began in Russell in 1923. In 1942, he joined the Army to fight in World War II. In April 1945, as he was fighting the Nazis in the hills of Italy, he was hit by Nazi machine-gun fire as he attempted to help a wounded soldier. He was not expected to live.

But he did live, and he embarked on a political career that would span a half-century, taking him from county attorney to the U.S. Senate to Republican nominee for president of the United States.

Soldier, statesman and patriot, Dole epitomizes what it means to be an American. And while he may have come short of becoming president, another Dole, his wife Elizabeth, the senator from North Carolina, might do just that.

Dole is one of many heroes of the greatest generation that Tom Brokaw chronicled in the national best-selling book by the same name. And there were many others, too many to name, whose stories deserve to be told. It is these nameless but not forgotten soldiers to whom Dole has dedicated much of his considerable energy. That is why so many made their way to Kansas this week: to honor Dole the hero, Dole the statesman, Dole the man, and also to honor the "greatest generation." Typical of Dole's humility, he used the dedication ceremony to recognize Medal of Honor recipients, not himself.

The celebrations began, appropriately, with World War II veterans recounting the war. During the four-day-long event, speakers and guests included Medal of Honor recipients, Navajo code-talkers, members of Doolittle Raiders, Tuskeegee airmen, former prisoners of war and the great-grandson of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Other dignitaries who flew to Lawrence for the dedication included former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, former Sen. George McGovern, former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, just to name a few. I was honored to say a few words about my friend among such distinguished guests, particularly the brave soldiers who fought during World War II.

The Robert J. Dole Institute stands in honor of one of the truly towering figures in American politics and the generation he represents. On display you will find his Army uniform and his Purple Heart displayed in front of a large stained-glass window of the American flag, which is flanked by two metal beams from the World Trade Center. Other items on display include the cigar box used to collect donations at a Russell drugstore for the "Bob Dole Fund" and the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, which was awarded to Dole by President Clinton in 1997. I might add that Dole was a compassionate conservative long before those words became enshrined in the White House by the current administration.

This last Memorial Day, my wife and I celebrated the liberation of Holland and the D-Day landing at Normandy. Standing on the beaches of Normandy, I could almost hear the voice of Douglas MacArthur: "I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that they would go on to victory." And that they did.

Today another generation has received the call, and today the primary adversary to freedom is the combination of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and fundamentalist terrorism. I am confident that the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, which exemplifies the tenacity and grit of its namesake, will inspire the next "great generation" to rise to the challenges of our time and help give them the fortitude to overcome the enemies of liberal democracy.