Bob Dole, a severely wounded U.S. soldier left for dead on a World War II battlefield and who later became a fixture for decades on the American political scene, died Sunday at the age of 98.
Dole was the plain-spoken son of the Midwestern prairie state of Kansas, which he represented in the U.S. Senate for 27 years, rising to be the chamber’s Republican majority leader.
Dole was the party’s nominee for vice president in 1976 and two decades later its presidential candidate in a losing effort as Democrat Bill Clinton won re-election.
Dole’s death was announced by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, his wife’s organization honoring the country’s military caregivers. It said he died in his sleep. Dole had announced almost a year ago that he had advanced lung cancer and was beginning treatment.
Tributes came from across the political spectrum.
U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement Sunday saying, “Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation. And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves.”
Biden also said Dole “had an unerring sense of integrity and honor.”
Separately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered that flags at the U.S. Capitol be flown at half-staff as a tribute to Dole, according to her deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill.
Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney said on Twitter, “When I think of the greatest generation, I think of Senator Bob Dole — a man who dedicated his life to serving our country.”
Former Republican President George W. Bush said, “This good man represented the finest of American values. He defended them in uniform during World War II. He advanced them in the United States Senate. And he lived them out as a father, husband, and friend.”
Bush’s successor, Democratic President Barack Obama, tweeted, “Senator Bob Dole was a war hero, a political leader, and a statesman—with a career and demeanor harkening back to a day when members of the Greatest Generation abided by a certain code, putting country over party. Our thoughts are with Elizabeth and the Dole family.”
In his last years, Dole came to personify the bravery of the World War II generation of military veterans. He raised money for the World War II memorial on the National Mall in Washington and often visited the site on weekends to greet the last of the American World War II veterans visiting the site.
Dole’s right hand was rendered useless by a battlefield injury under Nazi gunfire in Italy. He spent years greeting voters and Washington officialdom with his left while he clutched a pen tucked in his right hand to discourage people from a normal handshake.
In his autobiography, “One Soldier’s Story,” Dole wrote that in 1945, "As the mortar round, exploding shell, or machine gun blast — whatever it was, I'll never know —ripped into my body, I recoiled, lifted off the ground a bit, twisted in the air, and fell face down in the dirt.”
“For a long moment I didn't know if I was dead or alive. I sensed the dirt in my mouth more than I tasted it. I wanted to get up, to lift my face off the ground, to spit the dirt and blood out of my mouth, but I couldn't move,” he wrote.
“I lay face down in the dirt, unable to feel my arms. Then the horror hit me — I can't feel anything below my neck! I didn't know it at the time, but whatever it was that hit me had ripped apart my shoulder, breaking my collarbone and my right arm, smashing down into my vertebrae, and damaging my spinal cord,” Dole recounted.
In political life, Dole was often at odds with more conservative Republicans, but for more than three decades was among the party’s top officials. He was viewed in Washington as a political pragmatist.
Dole opposed many of the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson, but supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the early 1970s, Dole was the party’s national chairman, was the vice presidential running mate to President Gerald Ford in 1976 in his losing bid for a full elected term and held leadership roles in the Senate.
In the 1996 election, President Clinton handily won re-election, capturing 31 states to 19 for Dole.