Kansans love Bob Dole. We are drawn to his humor. We know him from his presidential campaign, for 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. 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.
There is not much we don’t know about a man who has dedicated his life to our service. But for those of you that have not had the pleasure of visiting Washington, D.C. or the honor of volunteering with an Honor Flight seeing the World War II Memorial for the first time, this is the part of Bob Dole that I want to share with you.
Men and women of the Greatest Generation 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 from the latest Honor Flight. 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 for Kansans 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. The non-voting Delegate for the District of Columbia in the U.S. House of Representatives said at the time, “Our generation will be blamed not only for obstructing the Mall, but for defacing it in the large chunks that would have to be carved out to make this space approachable." She opposed a war memorial on ground that has "come to stand for the freedom, democracy and equality themes associated with Washington and Lincoln."
Imagine fighting that kind of view.
As you can see, Senator Dole had to fight it in the Congress and in courts. But there also were challenges in securing donations to build the memorial. Senator 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.
We Kansans knew he was the right man for the job. And he prevailed.
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, a Kansan, Bob Dole, who loves America.
Happy 90th Bob. We love you.
Commentary by U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS)