Tributes pour in for veteran US’ ‘WW II hero’ Bob Dole

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Former US President Bill Clinton (right) talks with former Senator Bob Dole before making remarks at the WWII Memorial Groundbreaking Ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, DC on November 10, 2000. AFP

Tributes poured in and flags were lowered to half-staff in honour of veteran US lawmaker and World War II hero Bob Dole, who died in his sleep on Sunday aged 98.

President Joe Biden led a chorus of political tributes to Dole and his 35-year career in Congress paying respect to “an American statesman like few in our history.”

He was “a war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation,” Biden said in his statement. “And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves. I will miss my friend.”

A conservative Republican who campaigned for reining in government, Dole also had a pragmatic streak and sponsored bipartisan legislation during his tenure at the US Capitol.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered flags flown at half-staff at the building in his honour, while Biden mandated the same for the White House, federal grounds and military posts through December 9.

No details were initially provided, but the longtime senator had disclosed in February that he was being treated for stage four lung cancer.

In a statement, his family offered thanks “for the outpouring of love over the last year.”

It added: “America has lost one of its heroes; our family has lost its rock. We will smile as we recall his gifted sense of humour. We will take comfort from the extraordinary moments of our lifetimes together.”

Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement saying he joined “the nation in mourning Bob Dole, our good friend and a bona fide American hero.”

“Whatever their politics, anyone who saw Bob Dole in action had to admire his character and his profound patriotism.”

And former president Donald Trump said in a statement that Dole was “an American war hero and true patriot for our Nation. He served the Great State of Kansas with honour and the Republican Party was made stronger by his service.”

Dole, born in 1923 in Kansas, was elected to the US Senate in 1968 and was re-elected in 1974, 1980, 1986 and 1992, serving both as Senate majority and minority leader over the years.

In 1976, Dole was tapped by Gerald Ford to be his vice presidential candidate, but the Republican ticket lost to Democrats Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Twenty years later, Dole lost the White House race to Democrat Bill Clinton.

Kansas war hero

“When I think of the greatest generation, I think of Senator Bob Dole – a man who dedicated his life to serving our country. Rest In Peace, my friend,” tweeted Senator Mitt Romney, also a former Republican presidential candidate.

Tributes also came from Democrats.

Calling Dole “a man of his word,” Pelosi said the US had lost “a towering leader who embodied courage and excellence in public service.”

Former president Barack Obama praised Dole on Twitter as “a war hero, a political leader, and a statesman” whose generation placed “country over party.”

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders also sent condolences, saying, “Bob Dole served his country with courage on the battlefield, and with dignity in the Senate.”

Dole has long been praised for his military service. He enlisted as an officer in the US Army and in April 1945 was grievously wounded in the back and right arm by machine gun fire during fighting against German troops in Italy.

He was hospitalised for more than three years, and the wounds left him with a shriveled right arm that ended his childhood hopes of being an athlete or a doctor.

Social media tributes recalled how he insisted on standing, held up by an aide, to salute the casket of former president George HW Bush – who also served in World War II – at his funeral in 2018.

Dole is survived by his daughter Robin, and his second wife, Elizabeth Dole, who herself had a distinguished political career, serving as US secretary of transportation, secretary of labor and senator from North Carolina.