Bob Dole was a happy undergrad at the University of Kansas in 1942. “He didn’t want to go to war,” Richard Ben Cramer writes in chapter 5 of What It Takes: The Way to the White House, his doorstop “masterpiece” (as Jonathan Martin called it when Cramer died in 1993). Dole was happily “fooling around” on campus and at his fraternity, pursuing his studies, going out for football, baseball, and track. When he felt the footsteps of the draft board coming for him, however, he enlisted in the Army.
By the spring of 1944 he had risen to the rank of corporal and applied for officer training. He spent 90 days in Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning. He emerged just in time to fill a slot leading the Second Platoon in I Company of the 85th Mountain Regiment. Our troops were fighting it out with the Nazis in the brutal battle to take Italy, where Hitler had ordered “his generals there to fight to the last drop of blood.”
Dole was horribly wounded on April 14, 1945, as I Company sought to take Hill 913 in their zone when they ran into intense enemy fire raking a clearing they had to cross. Cramer provides a harrowing account of Dole’s injuries and recovery. Dole was on the verge of death when the Army asked his family’s permission to treat him with an experimental drug. “The Army had the only supply,” Cramer writes, “a thirty day dose for three patients.” Dole would be the third patient to take it.
First the doctors asked his brother Kenny to authorize treatment. Kenny asked what happened to the first two. The first had died and the second went blind, but survived. Kenny asked what Dole’s chances chances were without the treatment. Without it, he was told, Dole had no chances. Cramer reports:
So Kenny called home, and [parents] Bina and Doran [Dole] came back to Battle Creek, to sign the form, to watch the treatment. They had Bob tied down in bed, so he’d be still while the new drug took hold. Doctors told them not to expect much. Even if it worked, there was no guarantee he’d know them, be able to move, get the [great] strength back he had before. No one really knew what this drug would do. It was called streptomycin.
So, beginning of March, they put him down on it. Four days later, he sat up in bed, asked Kenny to go downtown and get him a milkshake.
Reading Cramer on Dole, I wondered if it’s possible to give something beyond the last full measure of devotion to country. If so, Dole gave it. RIP.