Famous American Freemasons: The Veteran Senator

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason°

“If you're hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed,

 come over to the Senate. You'll get the same kind of feeling

and you won't have to pay.”

~Bob Dole

He never forgot where he’d come from nor what he’d been through during the war. Both of those made him into the man he later became.

            He came from simple, Midwestern, small-town beginnings during the Great Depression. He knew all about poverty because he’d lived it. But he escaped and made his way in the world. Years later, in his plush Senate offices in Washington, D.C., he kept a picture of his father in Key brand bib overalls to remind him of his humble beginnings. His father had worn bibs to work everyday as he toiled countless hours in the creamery and in the grain elevator, making barely enough to support his family. His father’s words never left him: “There are doers, and there are stewers.” His father was a doer, and so was he.

He also carried the reminders of his World War II experiences. His right arm, withered from the wounds he’d received so many years before, wouldn’t allow him to forget. He’d received the wounds in the flash of a second, hit in the back and the arm with a burst of machine-gun fire. He’d waited for nine hours on the battlefield before receiving medical attention. Even as strong as he’d grown during his hardscrabble youth, he wasn’t prepared for the battle he’d go through to survive his horrendous injuries—with infection and complications threatening his life at every turn. In the end, his right arm was paralyzed—he never regained the use of it. His two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star were little compensation.

He was wounded as a young lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division during an assault against a Nazi fortified position in the Italian Alps. The assault was scheduled, then delayed a day because of the death of the President of the United States—Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As sad as he was at the loss of such a great President, he couldn’t help but wonder, during his long recovery—What if Roosevelt hadn’t died on that day? What if the assault had been launched on time? Would I still have been wounded? 

            His recovery was hard, both mentally and physically. He was in an army hospital for three years and three months. There were times he felt bitterness about what had happened and times he felt sorry for himself. But eventually, he was able to take that long, painful, mentally challenging experience and turn it into something positive because one of the things he learned was that he wasn’t the only one who’d been badly injured—war created many casualties. He was one of tens of thousands who came home from the war disabled and scarred for life. 

He ran for public office and was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He spent eight years there before moving to the United States Senate in 1969. He gave his maiden speech before the Senate on April 14, 1969, twenty-four years to the day from when he was wounded during World War II. The first thing he did as a senator from Kansas was to call for a Presidential commission on people with disabilities—using personal experience to explain that the disabled form a group that nobody joins by choice, but “It’s an exceptional group I joined on another April 14, 1945.” It took more than twenty years, but his persistence paid off. In 1990, Congress passed his bill—the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was only one accomplishment in his long career, but it was one with deep personal meaning for him in his decades in Washington, D.C. 

His name is Senator Bob Dole. 

Dole was born in Russell, Kansas, on July 22, 1923, to Bina and Doran Dole. His father worked hard to support his family, but they lived in dire poverty during the Great Depression. He ran a small creamery and later worked long hard hours at a grain elevator. In order to survive the tough economic times, the Dole family moved into the basement of their home so they could rent out the rest of the house. 

Dole was a star athlete at Russell High School, graduating in the spring of 1941. He enrolled at the University of Kansas, where he studied law and earned a spot on the Kansas basketball team under the legendary Jayhawks coach, Phog Allen. But Dole's study of law at Kansas was interrupted by the onset of World War II. He would continue his education after his long recovery from the wounds he’d received during the war. 

Dole ran for office for the first time even before he finished his college degree. In 1950, he was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. After serving a two-year term, he returned to school, earning his law degree from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. In 1952, Dole was admitted to the Kansas bar and began a law practice in his hometown of Russell.

During the time he practiced law, he also served as the county attorney of Russell County for eight years. Dole was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Kansas' 6th Congressional District in 1960. In 1962, his district in central Kansas merged with the 3rd District in western Kansas to form a sixty-county district, the 1st Congressional District that soon became known as the “Big First.” Dole was reelected, without serious opposition, for three terms as representative for the “Big First.” 

In 1968, Dole moved to the United States Senate. He’d defeated Kansas Governor William H. Avery for the nomination. He remained in that position for five terms, resigning his seat on June 11, 1996, so that he could focus his attention on his Presidential campaign. As senator, he’d faced only one serious challenge to his reelection. In 1974, Congressman Bill Roy launched a well-financed campaign against Dole. Roy’s popularity was in response to post-Watergate fallout. In a very close and hard fought campaign, Dole emerged victorious but only by a few thousand votes. 

When the Republicans took control of the Senate after the 1980 elections, Dole became chairman of the Finance Committee, serving from 1981 to 1985. When Howard Baker of Tennessee retired, Dole served as leader of the Senate Republicans as both the majority leader and the minority leader until he retired in 1996. 

Dole had a moderate voting record, often being able to bridge the gap between the moderate and conservative wings of the Kansas Republican Party. He appealed to moderates by supporting several major civil rights bills. He appealed to conservatives by voting against several of President Johnson’s “Great Society” bills, but he joined liberal Senator George McGovern in a bill to lower eligibility requirements for federal food stamps, a bill that appealed to Kansas farmers.

In 1976, Dole ran unsuccessfully as a vice presidential candidate with President Gerald Ford. He was chosen to replace incumbent Vice President Nelson Rockefeller who’d decided to withdraw from consideration the previous fall. An unfortunate remark Dole made during the vice presidential debate torpedoed his candidacy: “I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit.” The backlash from the remark hounded him for decades. In 2004, Dole admitted that he regretted making the statement.

He made an unsuccessful run for the 1980 Republican Presidential nomination, unable to overcome the popularity of the leading candidate from California. After a loss in the New Hampshire primary, where he received only 597 votes, he knew he was beaten and immediately withdrew. Ronald Reagan won the nomination and the Presidency. 

But Dole wasn’t done with Presidential politics yet. He made a more serious and better organized bid in 1988. He solidly defeated Reagan’s vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush, in the Iowa caucus. Bush finished last in the three-man race, behind television evangelist Pat Robertson. However, Bush came back strong to beat Dole in the New Hampshire primary. Dole and Bush differed very little on the major issues, but the New Hampshire contest came out in Bush’s favor, partly due to Bush’s television ad campaign that accused Dole of “straddling the fence” on taxes. The New Hampshire primary hurt Dole, not only because he lost it but because during a television interview with Tom Brokaw after the returns had come in, Dole appeared to lose his temper on national television. Dole was in New Hampshire, and Tom Brokaw and George Bush were in the NBC studio in New York. During the interview, Brokaw asked Bush if he had anything to say to Dole. Bush said, “No, just wish him well and we’ll meet again in the south.” Dole, apparently taken off guard by being interviewed with Bush, responded harshly to the same question, “Yeah, stop lying about my record.” The angry remark slowed the momentum of his campaign. Bush defeated him again in South Carolina, gaining the nomination and eventually the Presidency.

But the always persistent Dole wasn’t done yet. He came out strong in the 1996 race, the early front runner for the nomination with at least eight candidates running for the nomination. He was heavily favored to win the nomination against the more conservative candidates, but New Hampshire would prove a difficult challenge for Dole yet again. The populist candidate, Pat Buchanan, beat Dole in the early New Hampshire primary. 

But Dole eventually won the nomination, becoming the oldest first-time Presidential nominee at the age of seventy-three—about the same age Ronald Reagan was during his second bid for the White House. The win was a long time in coming. In his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention, he said, “Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith, and confidence in action.” In the months that followed, the remark would be turned around by his adversary, Bill Clinton, whose response to Dole’s remark was, “We do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future.” It was Dole’s toughest fought battle. He resigned his Senate seat to focus on the campaign, saying he was heading for either “the White House or home.” It was home.

The incumbent, Bill Clinton, had no serious primary opposition from the Democratic Party. Clinton won the election in a 379-159 Electoral College landslide. He received 49.2 percent of the vote against Dole's 40.7 percent. Dole is the only person in the history of the two major U.S. political parties who was his party's nominee for both President and vice president but who was never elected to either office.

            But, unlike the comment Bill Clinton made during the election, Bob Dole was never about building a bridge to the past. Throughout his long career, he built bridges to the future. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major civil rights victory, outlawed discrimination in the hiring of qualified people with disabilities. It required all public buildings to become accessible by providing such things as wheelchair ramps and automatic doors. It made public transportation available for people with disabilities. It protected not only those with injuries but also those who were blind or deaf or who had debilitating diseases. Because of the passage of the bill, disabled Americans, for the first time, had rights—rights to employment opportunities, communication, education, and the same public access most Americans take for granted.

            Another of Dole’s pet projects was the building of a memorial dedicated to World War II veterans on the National Mall. The Vietnam Memorial had been finished in 1982, but there was no memorial on the Mall for the veterans of World War II. After his loss to Bill Clinton in 1996, Bob Dole threw his support into raising the $100 million dollars needed to build the memorial, becoming the leader and spokesperson for the national campaign. The funds were raised in part by veterans and veterans groups, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Funds were also raised at small community fundraisers, sponsored by groups such as the PTA, the Cub Scouts, and the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution. The money came from big cities and small towns, a nickel and a dime at a time from collecting aluminum cans and from countless pancake breakfasts, chili dinners, fish fries, and bake sales. Slowly, the efforts from all over America paid off—five million, ten million, twenty million, fifty million . . . 

President Clinton, who obviously respected his former adversary a great deal, appreciated the fact that Dole’s new cause was a worthy one. Clinton believed that Washington, D. C., did need to have a national memorial for the valiant men who’d fought in World War II. President Clinton awarded Bob Dole the highest civilian award—the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On the same day he awarded Dole that medal, he unveiled the plans for the World War II National Memorial on the Washington Mall. Bob Dole, who was there to receive the medal, quipped, in typical fashion, that he’d hoped that he’d been called to Washington to accept the key to the front door of the White House. 

            Later, the elder statesman, in an emotional speech at the White House said, “I’ve seen American soldiers bring hope and leave graves in every corner of the world. I’ve seen this nation overcome Depression and segregation and communism, turning back mortal threats to human freedom.” In many respects, he was speaking from his own experience. 

            Because of Bob Dole’s leadership, the efforts of many supporters in Washington, D.C., and the contributions of millions of Americans, the nation has a World War II memorial on the National Mall, located at the end of the reflecting pond at the base of the Washington Monument. It opened to the public on April 24, 2004—twenty-two years after the Vietnam Memorial Wall was completed in 1982. The World War II Memorial features fifty-six pillars, representing the forty-eight states in 1945 where American youth were drafted and the provinces where Americans lost their lives during the war. The Freedom Wall is a long wall studded with 4,048 stars, each representing one hundred American lives lost during the war.

            Bob Dole has remained busy in his retirement. He has written several books, including a memoir and two collections of Washington humor—one featuring funny remarks and jokes told by politicians and the other a similar collection featuring United States Presidents. 

            Dole appears often as a popular political commentator on shows such as Larry King Live. He is also never afraid to poke fun at himself as when he appeared on Saturday Night Live and the satirical news program on Comedy Central, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics opened in July 2003 on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas. The institute, which was established to bring bipartisanship back to politics, was opened on Dole's 80th birthday. The opening festivities included appearances by such notables as former President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
            Bob Dole’s great strength as an American leader is his dedication to the things he believes in and his tenaciousness in getting things done, no matter how great the challenges, no matter how long the road, or no matter how impossible the goal may seem. Even in his retirement, he has continued to lend his leadership and his good name to those things that mean something to him.

The Illustrious Robert J. Dole, 33° became a member of Russell Lodge No. 177 in Russell, Kansas, in 1955. He was a member of the Scottish Rite and was honored as Supreme Temple Architect in 1997.

Brother Dole, a survivor of prostate cancer, has been a long standing financial supporter of the Kansas Masonic Foundation. Senator Dole notified the Kansas Masonic Foundation of his desire to create a Partnership for Life Campaign. He donated $150,000 to create a prostate cancer research fund at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. To date, the Masons, through the Kansas Masonic Foundation, have given more than $13.5 million to the important cause.  

This is an excerpt from Todd E. Creason's award winning book Famous American Freemasons: Volume II. 


Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor.  He is the award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the From Labor to Refreshment blog.  He is the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754.  He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.DYou can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org


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