Ad Astra Per Aspera

Kevin Shannahan

Husband, father, WWII veteran, citizen, Congressman and Senator Robert Joseph Dole died Sunday, December 5th at the age of 98. While no longer an elected official after his defeat by President Clinton in 1996, his passing nonetheless marks the end of an era in American political life. As President Kennedy spoke in 1961 of the torch being passed to a new generation, he was speaking of the men and women who had come into adulthood during the Second World War. Robert Dole was one such man.

Robert Dole left the University of Kansas in 1942 to serve as an officer in the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He was grievously wounded by German fire in April,1945 while fighting in Italy. Against all odds, he survived his wounds, spending years in hospitals before leaving the Army in 1947. He returned to college after the Army, his original plans to become a doctor dashed by his injuries. Dole finished his undergraduate studies and went on to earn a law degree.

He first ran for office in 1950, winning a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives, before serving as the County Attorney in his home of Russell, Kansas. Robert Dole went on to be elected to Congress in 1960, but it was his election to the Senate in 1971, where he served until 1996. that was to define his political career.

Higher office was to elude him. As President Ford’s running mate in 1976, he was to lose to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. He unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination before winning it to face President Clinton in 1996, a race Clinton won for a second term.

As a Congressman, Dole voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, helping to bring our nation closer to its ideals.

Ad Astra Per Aspers, “To the stars through difficulty”, is the motto of the State of Kansas. That motto also aptly describes the life of one of her more famous sons. From a mountain in Italy, through years in hospitals and a lifetime of disability and pain, he was a man of substance who served his country well. In a world of image and spin, he was a man who had been refined by fire. Robert Joseph Dole exemplified President Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

His legacy may not be as visible as that of a President.. The nature of Congress and the Senate seldom celebrate individual deeds. That legacy is no less real, however. In President Kennedy’s speech, the torch was being passed to the generation who had served in WWII. Now there is a generation of men and women of both parties who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who are picking up the torch of freedom from those who went before, their scars and prosthetics badges of honor in the Congress and Senate

In small towns and cities across America, there are young men and women who, like Robert Dole, come from modest backgrounds and who are the repositories of their families’ hopes for a better future. They will be able to pursue their dreams because Bob Dole, and citizen soldiers like him, left their civilian lives behind and drove a bayonet through the heart of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The 1964 and 1968 Civil Rights Acts and the 1965 Voting Rights Act mean that a young person’s dreams are no longer constrained by the evil of racial segregation. Robert Dole left America better than he found it.

As a fellow citizen, I can pay Senator Dole no greater compliment. It was an honor to have voted for him for President. I have never regretted it. Rest in Peace sir!

Photo: Courtesy of Biography Channel