Dole a model of service to country
From humble beginnings to corridors of power, Kansan met challenges head-on
Washington ? “King Edward; two for a nickel.”
Joking about it.
Bob Dole is sitting in his office on the 10th floor of Alston & Bird law offices, near the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the White House, the center of the most powerful empire on Earth, and he’s showing THE CIGAR BOX.
It’s the box that was passed around his hometown of Russell in 1947 to raise money for operations to help him recover from war wounds.
Dole doesn’t mention the pain.
Nearly died after being cut down by a German machine-gunner on a meaningless hill in Italy on April 14, 1945, just two days after FDR died and just months before the end of the war.
Then months in a body cast, nine surgeries, infections, new treatments, willing himself to walk again, learning how to use his left hand because the right arm was useless, two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star.
Eighteen hundred bucks in nickels, dimes and quarters was collected in that cigar box from people like Dole’s family. Folks tested by the Great Depression, working hard all their lives with nothing to show for it except their character, humor, pride and family.
“I remember people brought everything to the house — live ducks,” Dole says, laughing, talking about his hometown. “They couldn’t afford to bring you money, but they’d bring a duck, you know, so you’d have it for dinner, and they’d leave 25 cents or 50 cents. That was a lot, 50 cents, in 1947. That’d buy you a pretty good steak dinner.”
A funny observation after living through a horror that few can understand — when war came around and a generation of big, strapping, athletic, intelligent boys like Dole, just starting their lives really, were called on to be cannon fodder. The “Greatest Generation,” they’re called. His dog tags are in the cigar box.
“They still have blood on them,” Dole says matter-of-factly.
In 1976, running for vice president on Gerald Ford’s ticket, Dole held the cigar box and cried in front of Russell and all the world.
Now, he keeps the cigar box in his desk drawer at work.
He has to rush to another meeting. Can’t dwell on the past, can’t stop working, can’t stop serving the country, now it’s the veterans. Handing the cigar box back to a reporter, he says put it back when you’re finished.
|Bob Dole is honorary co-chairman of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.In Bob Dole’s first run at the presidency, in 1980, he received 597 votes in the New Hampshire Republican primary.Bob Dole succeeded Howard Baker as the top Republican in the Senate in 1984 when Baker resigned his seat to become President Reagan’s chief of staff. Baker later married Dole’s Senate mate from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum.Bob Dole is out of political office, but he is hardly retired. In addition to working at the Washington law firm of Alston & Bird, he is chairman of the National World War II Memorial Campaign. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he joined former President Bill Clinton in helping to raise more than $100 million as co-chairman of the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which will enable families of victims to attend a college or trade school of their choice.Bob Dole succeeded Howard Baker as the top Republican in the Senate in 1984 when Baker resigned his seat to become President Reagan’s chief of staff. Baker later married Dole’s Senate mate from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum.Bob Dole is out of political office, but he is hardly retired. In addition to working at the Washington law firm of Alston & Bird, he is chairman of the National World War II Memorial Campaign. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he joined former President Bill Clinton in helping to raise more than $100 million as co-chairman of the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which will enable families of victims to attend a college or trade school of their choice.|
Eventually, the box will wind up in Lawrence at Kansas University and the institute for politics that bears Dole’s name.
When people who know Dole talk about him, the conversation usually returns to a simple fact: Dole never forgot where he came from.
“He always said he was from Russell, Kansas, and he said it with great pride,” said former Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden. “We were proud of him, and he made us proud of ourselves.”
Dole was born July 22, 1923, in Russell. He, his brother and two sisters grew up during the Great Depression.
His father, Doran, ran a creamery company and his mother, Bina, sold Singer sewing machines.
Like everyone else, the Doles were poor, at one point moving into the basement of their house on Maple Street so that they could rent out the top half.
By the time he was 12, Dole was working the soda fountain at the downtown drugstore.
“Dawson’s Drugstore,” Dole said. “I worked there. Everybody there, they were big K-State fans. They’d drive me crazy.”
Despite working among Wildcat fans, Dole chose to attend Kansas University, across the state in Lawrence.
KU and WWII
Lawrence was Dole’s first venture away from Russell, and he has fond memories of attending KU in 1941.
“Parties,” Dole answers with a smile on his face, when asked what he remembers most about his time at KU. “I missed a lot of classes, but I didn’t miss many parties. I think it was Dean Woodruff who said, ‘You know, Bob, if I were you I’d think about joining the Army.’ I said, ‘I’ve been thinking about that. My grades aren’t too good, and all of my friends are going into the service.’ We’d go to all these all-night farewell parties and then not want to get up for class, so I joined the Enlisted Reserve in 1942.”
In 1945, when he was 21 years old, Dole, a second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, was leading an infantry platoon fighting the Germans in the mountains of Italy.
“Before I got in, this was a very elite division. You had to have letters of recommendation to get in,” Dole said. “These were all skiers and I wasn’t a skier, but after they started losing people in combat you didn’t have to have a letter of recommendation, you just had to be warm and breathing and moving, and that was my case.”
Second lieutenants didn’t last long, and Dole nearly became a statistic. He was hit by Nazi machine gun fire as he tried to rescue his platoon’s wounded radio man.
“I was paralyzed from the neck down,” Dole said. “I thought I lost my arms because I couldn’t move my arms. They were up above my head.”
He was given morphine and not expected to survive.
“They took my blood and put a big ‘M’ up here,” Dole said, motioning to his forehead. “They wanted the next guy to come along to know that I’d had morphine, so they didn’t overdose me.”
It took Dole about three years to recover from his war injuries. He’s never regained the use of his right hand.
“I use a button hook to get dressed every day,” he said.
“It doesn’t seem like 60 years ago,” Dole said. “It seems like a couple of months ago, or a couple of years ago, not that you sit around and think about it all the time. When you do think about it, you think, ‘Jiminy, that can’t be 60 years ago.'”
When he returned from the war, just like any soldier, Dole had to pick up where he left off.
He had entered KU as a pre-med student, but without the use of his right hand he knew he couldn’t go on to fulfill his childhood goal of being a doctor.
“I knew when I came back … in a sense, I don’t think it was ever a blessing, but it made me think: I had to use my head,” Dole said. “I couldn’t use my hands, so I went back and made A’s when I was making C’s. I knew I had to do it if I was going to have a future. I couldn’t mess around in school.”
In 1948, he married Phyllis Holden, a New Hampshire woman who had been an Army nurse. She met Dole at a dance.
Dole then went to Washburn University in Topeka, receiving a law degree in 1952. Because he couldn’t take notes with his left hand, he used a cumbersome tape recorder to record his professors’ lectures, and then listened to the tapes over and over again.
While at Washburn, Dole was elected to the Kansas House as Russell’s youngest legislator, serving one term, from 1951 to 1953.
Dole then ran a successful campaign for Russell County attorney, a post he held for four terms, before deciding to run for a seat in Congress in 1960.
He defeated Keith Sebelius in a nasty race in which some campaign mailings alleged Sebelius drank too much.
Dole denied he had anything to do with the mailings, but such hardball campaign tactics came to typify Dole’s politics.
No one could deny that Dole worked harder than anyone else when it came to campaigning and serving in Congress.
Polly Bales, 83, of Logan, said she first heard of Dole after her husband’s uncle, Dane Hansen, a Logan businessman, oilman and Republican leader, met with Dole to discuss the 1960 campaign.
“He said, ‘I know he’d make a good conservative congressman. He’s driving on threadbare tires,'” Bales recalled.
She helped organize Dole pineapple juice parties for his campaigns. The sessions were spurred by Dole’s attempt to distinguish himself from another opponent, Philip Doyle, in the 1960 race. “We went through barrels of that stuff during his campaigns,” Bales said.
It was difficult to get the word out about Dole in the district, which covered most of western Kansas.
“We did what we could do to spread the word,” she said. “Eventually, it kind of mushroomed over the state.”
Dole served four terms in the House, and was elected to the Senate in 1968.
He was a tireless worker for constituents and never forgot a name.
Hayden remembers when he was speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives and he was introducing his elderly grandmother to Dole.
“She came to Topeka that year for Kansas Day because she knew it would probably be her last, and of course Bob Dole was there, and after he spoke there was a line of people there to go up and talk to him.
“So I was there with my grandmother, and when we got up there I said, ‘Senator, this is my grandmother,’ and before I could introduce her, he looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Mr. Speaker, I have known her a lot longer than I’ve known you,’ and then he turned to my grandmother and said, ‘Hello, Irene’ and he shook her hand.
“I couldn’t believe it and neither could she! But that’s the kind of guy he was — and always has been.”
Bob Wells, 84, a retired broadcasting executive and early Dole campaign chairman/supporter who lives in Lawrence, helped with Dole’s run for Congress in 1960.
“He had a very self-deprecating sense of humor. He mostly poked fun at himself,” Wells said.
“I remember there was a big meeting of some kind in Great Bend and there in the front row were four guys in their feed-and-seed hats, holding signs that said ‘Dump Dole.’
“Bob made a few remarks and then he opened it up for questions. One of these guys jumped to the microphone and really let Bob have it.
“Bob let him have his say, and then he said something like, ‘Well, Bill, didn’t you and I talk about this two years ago in Hoisington? And didn’t you say it was a good idea?’
“Well, Bill — that’s just a hypothetical name — he had no idea Bob would remember his name or that they’d talked before. He sat down and didn’t say another word.
“Bob had a great memory. He loved to call people by name, everywhere he went.
“He can come off as hard-boiled, but to those of us who know him, he’s a pretty sensitive guy. A patsy, really.”
Nelson Krueger, a former aide to Dole, said: “The man is a master at following up. While we would put in honest-to-God 12- and 14-hour days, I never worked a day as hard as Dole did. He had boundless energy. The thing I admired the most and hopefully learned from him was never give up. That guy is relentless. He never, ever gives up.”
Krueger said the Kansas staff would send Dole copies of newspaper articles every day on the telecopier, and if there was a storm that hit a town, Dole would call the mayor immediately, giving the locals contact numbers for federal assistance.
Krueger said once the federal government was blocking an effort by a Eureka rancher to return a sterile bull to a ranch in Canada because of federal law that had set quotas on how many cattle could cross the border.
Krueger said the staff worked for days without luck trying to straighten out the matter, and Dole wanted to know what the problem was. Dole then called Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz and told him that he and Dole were going to take a little trip to the customs post at Sweet Grass, Mont., to settle the issue. Krueger said Butz didn’t want to take any trip with Dole, so he made sure the Kansas rancher got a new bull.
In 1974, weakened by the Watergate scandal surrounding the Republican White House, Dole was fighting for his political life against an up-and-coming Democratic congressman, Dr. Bill Roy of Topeka.
Dole had been national Republican chairman and helped Richard Nixon win the presidency by the largest margin of any Republican in history to that point. Dole also had just divorced his wife.
Roy was leading in the polls, and at the traditional debate at the Kansas State Fair, he hammered Dole as voting against Kansas farmers.
With one minute left in the debate, Dole turned to Roy and said, “Why do you do abortions? And why do you favor abortion on demand?” The crowd began to boo. Roy had delivered thousands of babies and had conducted several abortions when the life of the mother was in jeopardy.
The abortion issue continued throughout the campaign with campaign literature showing up that depicted dead babies in garbage cans.
It was thought to be the first time abortion had been a major issue in a statewide race.
Dole won by making crucial inroads in heavy Catholic precincts that usually voted Democrat.
Roy said he didn’t hold the question against Dole. “I’ve never seen Bob with horns and a tail as a result of that,” Roy said.
Several years later, Roy spoke briefly with Dole at a funeral. “As chairman of the Finance Committee, Dole made an effort to correct some of the egregious tax cuts made in the first year of the Reagan administration. I told him I wanted to congratulate him on his leadership. I was surprised by his response. He said, ‘If I’m doing a good job, you’re partly responsible for it. I learned in that campaign if I didn’t change my ways, I wasn’t going anywhere.’ “
In 1975, Dole married Elizabeth Hanford, a rising star in the Republican Party.
In 1976, Dole got the call from Gerald Ford to be his vice presidential candidate.
The team was way down in the polls to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Dole’s job was to campaign nonstop and hit Carter day after day. Dole was the attack dog.
In the vice presidential debate, Dole ticked off the list of wars the United States had fought — “all Democrat wars” he called them. Mondale replied, “I think that Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight.”
A lot of political pundits said the Dole statement hurt the campaign, which in the end nearly surmounted Carter’s early lead.
Four years later, Dole ran in the Republican Party primary for president and was crushed in New Hampshire as Ronald Reagan rose above the crop of candidates.
Dole became Senate majority leader in 1984. After Reagan’s two terms, Dole ran for president again in 1988 and won the Iowa caucus, but George H.W. Bush crushed him in the New Hampshire primary.
Four years later, Bill Clinton beat Bush, and Dole eyed his next move.
In 1996, he retired from the Senate to devote all his time to his presidential campaign.
Some said he wanted it too badly; it affected his career in the Senate.
His 1974 senatorial opponent Roy thinks so. He met with Dole in 1993 to talk about universal health care. Dole was knowledgeable about the issue, and seemed sympathetic to the problems of expensive health care. “I always felt he could have done a great deal in that area, but he couldn’t run for president and go against the health care lobby and still get nominated,” Roy said.
Clinton won re-election relatively easily. The two recently met again at a taping of “60 Minutes” in New York.
Dole said: “Here I am sitting in New York City in the CBS studios with Bill Clinton. … I’m looking at him and he’s talking about me, then he’s lookin’ at me and I’m talking about him. You think, ‘Gee, I could’ve been over there and he could’ve been over here.’ It’s a small world.”
After a life in politics that spanned nearly half a century, Dole says he misses the work he did. His chair from the Senate floor sits untouched in his office, a gift from his colleagues upon his retirement.
“Oh yeah, I miss it,” Dole said. “It’s sort of like being in the eye of the storm. You met a lot of good people from Kansas. You come back and it’s not always how you vote or how many speeches you make or what your title is. But you find out after you’ve been here for a while it’s, ‘Did you take care of this guy’s veterans benefits or somebody’s food stamps or somebody’s welfare problem?’ That’s why you’re here.”
Now Dole says he has to be content being the spouse of a senator — Elizabeth Dole was elected in 2002 to represent North Carolina. Bob Dole still has floor privileges in the Senate.
“Most of the time I just follow Elizabeth around and see what she’s doin’,” Dole jokes.
Dole is busier now than he’s ever been. As he approaches his 80th birthday, he’s a hard man to keep up with. One minute he’s host of a breakfast for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The next he’s off to the Capitol and then on a plane by mid-afternoon.
In between he has found time to lead the National World War II Memorial campaign. Dole said he’d helped raise $186 million for the monument, which is already under construction on the National Mall and scheduled to be dedicated next May.
“It’s been a great experience, from people who’ve contributed pennies, nickels; one guy sent me a million-dollar check. He wasn’t a veteran, he’s an Armenian-American, said ‘This country’s been good to me.'”
As the former senator darts into another meeting with members of his law firm, he shouts out, “Time for business,” as the doors to an office close.
Dole shows no signs of slowing down.
“I could retire and go down to Florida and sit on the beach. I don’t want to do that. I want to stay active.”
This story includes reporting by J-W staff writers Dave Ranney and Terry Rombeck in Kansas.