Photo courtesy of Dole Photograph Collection, 1900-2011, Box 5, Folder 10, Robert and Elizabeth Dole Archive and Special Collections, Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, University of Kansas
Robert Joseph Dole, WWII veteran, longtime US Senator (R-KS), and Republican candidate for President in 1996, died on December 5, 2021, at age 98.
Born on July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kansas, Dole was raised in difficult circumstances. In an area devastated by the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s, “his family was on the bottom rung,” as one observer put it, in “a place where the top rung is not very high off the ground.”
Dole was attending the University of Kansas when World War II broke out. Like so many of his generation, he joined the service and served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He saw much hard fighting in the Italian campaign. In April 1945 he was hit by German machine gun fire and seriously wounded near Castel d’Aiano. His injuries were serious, and most of the men in his platoon thought he was dead. He faced years of painful rehabilitation in the postwar era, including seven operations, and he never did recover the full use of either arm. During one of his extended hospital stays, he met wounded soldier Daniel Inouye, the future Democratic senator from Hawaii. The two became friends, and in fact they spoke to each other about running for office one day. In the course of his wartime service, Dole was decorated with a Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster and a Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster.
Undaunted by his physical difficulties, Dole attended the University of Arizona and Washburn University in the postwar period, earning his law degree from Washburn in 1952. He decided to enter politics, was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1950, the US House of Representatives ten years later, and the US Senate in 1968. He served 28 years in the Senate before resigning to concentrate on his campaign for the Presidency in 1996.
Dole established a reputation as a bedrock conservative but also as a legislator who knew that the art of compromise and reaching out “across the aisle” was the key to getting things done. Besides his presidential nomination, Dole ran for Vice President in 1976, chaired the Senate Finance Committee, and served as Chairman of the Republican Party.
In 2005, The National WWII Museum awarded Senator Dole the American Spirit Award, its highest honor, for his years of military and public service. In 2008, Dole shared his story with the Museum team during an oral history interview, which the Museum is proud to have as part of its collection to preserve Dole's legacy of service for generations to come.