Army Capt. Bob Dole

Bob Dole (front right) with fellow future Senator Daniel Inouye at Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Robert Dole Library.)
Bob Dole (front right) with fellow future Senator Daniel Inouye at Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Robert Dole Library.)

Today is Bob Dole's 77th birthday. But the former senator almost didn't make it to his 22nd birthday, let alone this one: Fifty-five years ago, while on active duty in the hills of Italy during World War II, he was hit by Nazi machine-gun fire.

Dole had joined the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1942 and soon became a second lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division. On April 14, 1945, Dole's "I" Company of the 85th Regiment was attempting to take Hill 913 in their zone when they ran into intense enemy fire raking a clearing they had to cross. Dole threw a grenade at a machine-gun nest and dove into a shell hole. In his 1988 autobiography he wrote, "I could see my platoon's radioman go down … After pulling his lifeless form into the foxhole, I scrambled back out again. As I did, I felt a sharp sting in my upper right back."

In a campaign video from the same year, Dole describes his wounding graphically: "Some high-explosive bullet entered my right shoulder, fractured my vertebrae in my neck. I — I saw these — things racing — my parents, my house. I couldn't move my arms, my legs." A medic gave the young lieutenant morphine, and then marked Dole's forehead with an "M" in his own blood. After nine hours on the battlefield before being evacuated to an Army field hospital, Dole was not expected to live.

Although Dole himself often makes light of his maimed right arm and his hospital stay, recalling his "bedpan promotion" to captain, in reality his recovery took him through several hospitals, nine operations, and over three years of rehabilitation and recuperation. He learned to write with his left hand and to rely on that arm, since his other cannot be used.

As one journalist pointed out during Dole's last presidential campaign, Dole neither exploits his disability nor shuns it. Rather, he has "folded it into his life" — through establishment of the Dole Foundation to help the disabled, by pushing the Americans With Disabilities Act through Congress, and by aligning himself with the physically impaired.

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