War hero and longtime Republican leader Bob Dole dead at age of 98

Dole served as an WWII soldier, vice presidential candidate, senator, Senate leader and presidential candidate in a storied career

Updated: December 5, 2021 - 9:35pm

Bob Dole, a son of the prairie from Russell, Kan., who survived grievous injuries during World War II to battle for decades as a Republican Senate leader and presidential candidate, died Sunday at the age of 98 after a battle with lung cancer.

His death was announced by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation founded by his wife and former North Carolina senator.

"Senator Robert J. Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years," the statement said.

The family had announced in February he was diagnosed with lung cancer and was beginning  treatments.

Sharp-witted and plain spoken, Dole became an icon of the greatest generation, a lieutenant in the Army's 10th Mountain Division wounded so severely on a battlefield in Italy during World War II that he originally was left for dead before a medic discovered he was breathing.

The story of his grit and his 39-month recovery became emblematic of the resilience of the WWII generation and fodder for a remarkable political career that would earn him a quarter century in the U.S. Senate, where he would serve as one of the longest GOP leaders in history.

He would run for vice president with Gerald Ford in 1976 and then two decades later for president as the GOP nominee, both times losing to Democrats while never extinguishing his reverence for the will of the American people or his commitment to public service.

"When it's all over," he once proclaimed, "it's not who you were ... it's whether you made a difference."

In 2016, he was the sole member of his party's elder statesman crowd to endorse Donald Trump as nominee, appearing at the nominating convention in Cleveland.

Trump on Sunday hailed Dole as "an American war hero and true patriot for our Nation."

"He served the Great State of Kansas with honor and the Republican Party was made stronger by his service," Trump said. "Our Nation mourns his passing, and our prayers are with Elizabeth and his wonderful family."

A fervent Republican, Dole came from a generation that fought hard but was willing to barter with friend and foe and embrace compromises deemed for the good of the country, though he expressed a lifelong distrust of big government. "When I was quite young, I put my trust in God, not government, and I never get the two confused," he once said.

During his acceptance speech in San Diego for the GOP presidential nomination, he uttered one of his most quoted lines about the dangers of big government. "A government that seizes control of the economy for the good of the people, ends up seizing control of the people for the good of the economy," he declared.

In his latter years after political retirement, Dole fought vigorously for the causes of his World War II comrades, playing a key role in the creation, funding and construction of the World War II monument, where he'd often greet veterans and their families.

His wife Elizabeth followed in his political footsteps, winning a Senate seat in North Carolina before creating a foundation that aided wounded warriors and their caregivers after Sept. 11 changed the military's mission.