The Magazine

Bob Dole's War

A wounded soldier rebuilds his life.

May 16, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 33 • By ARAM BAKSHIAN JR.
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Slowly, painfully, Dole made the most of what was left. He learned to walk again, and to write again with his partially functioning left hand. Most important, he learned to hope again, and to believe in himself. He went back to college, earned a law degree, and, in 1950, at the urging of a fellow student, he entered politics, running for the Kansas legislature:

My entrance into politics certainly wasn't propelled by partisan fervor. The Russell County Attorney greatly influenced my decision to become a Republican. He told me, "Bob, if you really want to do something in politics in Kansas, you better declare yourself as a Republican." "Really, why is that?" "Because Republicans outnumber Democrats in Kansas." I became a Republican, pragmatically at first, and then philosophically later on.

By the time he was elected to the U.S. Senate, the transformation was complete and Dole had become one of the leading voices of traditional, essentially conservative, Republicanism. As a lawmaker, however, Dole was always more of a doer than a thinker, leaving the philosophizing to others. And he always maintained a standard of civility in the Senate based on something more than etiquette. In 1946, at Percy Jones Military Hospital in Michigan, Dole made friends with two other wounded vets, a young Japanese-American named Dan Inouye, who had lost an arm in battle in Italy not far from Hill 913, and a Michigan man named Phil Hart, who had been wounded during the D-Day assault on Utah Beach.

Looking back, Dole reflects: "I find it amazing that the three of us--Phil Hart, Daniel Inouye, and I--three wounded soldiers who became such good friends through our common suffering, would all one day serve our country as United States senators." In fact, they did more than simply serve together in the Senate; they remained close friends. "Something about World War II experiences and our time together at Percy Jones Hospital created a bond among us that no partisan politics could ever separate."

It's all part of a larger but fading picture. Except for Jimmy Carter, every president from Dwight Eisenhower to George Bush the Elder, served in World War II. From the late 1940s through the late 1970s, World War II veterans were a major presence in both the House and Senate, sometimes cooperating across party lines for the good of the nation. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to say the same of Vietnam veterans, Gulf war veterans, or American veterans of any other war fought by all-volunteer, career armed forces.

Today, and into the foreseeable future, most American politicians will be immune from both the suffering war can inflict and the quality of character it can instill. Memoirs like One Soldier's Story remind us of just how important those qualities can be.

Aram Bakshian Jr., editor in chief of American Speaker, has served as an aide to three U.S. presidents, most recently as director of speechwriting for Ronald Reagan.