Combat: An Experience of the Soul
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2001 Whether in peace or in war, military service leaves indelible memories of adversity and camaraderie, tragedy and triumph.
Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole knows that well. His first service to country was within the military's ranks during World War II.
"For us, words like 'freedom,' 'duty' and 'sacrifice' have a luster that no screenwriter can capture," Dole said of his comrades in arms. "Experience burns them into one's soul."
Dole served as a combat infantry officer in Italy. Wounded twice, he was hospitalized for more than three years.
He paid tribute to his fellow veterans and all the nation's men and women in uniform Jan. 19, during Vice President Dick Cheney's Salute to Veterans. Using a mix of sincere reflection and wry humor, Dole spoke about his generation's service to the nation and to the world.
"We've been called the 'greatest generation,' but we're also the 'disappearing generation,'" Dole told veterans, Medal of Honor recipients and family members at George Washington University Smith Center here.
"Every day, 1,200 World War II veterans pass away," he said. "We've gone from 16 million plus to less than 6 million, and that's saying a lot."
Proud to represent those who served in World War II, Dole claimed, however, they were not a special group. "We were just ordinary young men and women who were asked, in some cases, to do extraordinary things.
"I know there are many stories in this room that could be told of heroism," he said. "In fact, we've reached a point where we could tell about anything we want. There's nobody around to contradict us anymore. My war record looks a little better every day that I repeat it."
Delivering a straight-faced, but comic juxtaposition, Dole compared himself to his World War II hero, Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"He was born in Texas and moved to Kansas right after he learned to read," Dole said of the World War II commander who went on to become the nation's 34th president. "He worked in a cream and egg station. I worked in a cream and egg station. He was a general. I was a second lieutenant. He was elected president. I lost. But otherwise, we had a lot in common."
Eisenhower exhibited the depth of his leadership, Dole said, when the general launched the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. Deciding there would be a window of opportunity June 6, 1944, Dole said, Eisenhower prayed he had made the right decision for he knew it meant "a death sentence for thousands and thousands of friend and foe."
The general then wrote a four-sentence statement that was to be given to the press in case the landings failed.
"It went something like this," Dole said, "'Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. We acted upon the best advice available. The soldiers, the sailors, the Marines, the airmen did all that courage and duty could call for. If there is any responsibility for the failure it is mine alone.'
"If you want a definition of leadership," he said, "there it is, because leadership without responsibility is not leadership at all. Eisenhower understood that ... if there was failure, it was his. If there was success, it belonged to everyone."
America's success in World War II, Dole said, belongs to those who served on the frontlines and to those who served on the home front. People across America have contributed $160 million to build a World War II memorial to honor both, he said.
"Somebody had to produce the food," the senator said. "Somebody had to be teaching. Somebody had to be in the shops. Somebody had to be in the factories, men and women.
This will be a memorial for that generation of men and women. "As I look back at it," Dole reflected, "it was one time when everybody was together. We understood our mission. We understood the threat and we understood what our resolve had to be if we were to prevail."
From time to time, Dole said, he considers where America would be today if the Allies had not prevailed, and the nature of the enemy "who would be telling us what to do and what to say and when to say it and how to say it," he said. For that matter, he added, whether Americans could meet in any assembly.
Telling the story of an encounter with a businessman who once turned down his fundraising efforts, the senator unleashed his wry wit to highlight his generation's service and sacrifice.
"I remember one CEO," Dole said. "I won't mention the name. He said, 'Bob you're doing a great job. I hope you raise your money, but this just doesn't fit our guidelines.'
"I wrote back, "Well, World War II didn't fit ours either. But we were there, and we prevailed, and you've prospered. So if the corporation can't send any money, send a little of your own. I know you've got a lot of it.'
"I haven't heard from him since," Dole said.