Veterans' memories are long, especially for the buddies they will never forget. Bob Dole’s life is defined by service to his country. Awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for his heroism in World War II, Dole nearly lost his life but never lost his desire to serve. He became a U.S. representative, and for 27 years a U.S. senator from his home state of Kansas. Dole was the Republican nominee for vice president in 1976 and president in 1996.
Here Sen. Dole shares his tribute to another man of remarkable courage with whom he formed an unbreakable bond — a fellow soldier, a longtime Senate colleague from a different party and a dear friend — Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. Even though Sen. Inouye passed away six years ago, the memories of their friendship remain strong.
On April 21, 1945, Danny Inouye committed one of the most courageous acts in Army history as he charged up a hillside in Italy. He was a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of Japanese Americans who swore an oath to serve our nation despite the extreme distrust and prejudice they and their loved ones faced at home. Some of those men fought even as their families were locked in America’s internment camps. They became and remain the Army’s most highly decorated regiment.
As Danny fought his way up the hill, his breast pocket carried the two silver dollars that stopped a bullet aimed at his heart earlier in the war. He was determined to take out the enemy’s machine gun nests, battling his way forward, even after he was shot in the stomach. When he was finally within reach of the nest, he pulled the pin on a grenade and prepared to throw, but a German’s rifle grenade struck and nearly severed his raised arm at the elbow. He waved off medical help in case the grenade became loose in a grip he could no longer control. Astoundingly, he managed to take the grenade in his other hand and throw it toward the enemy before collapsing.
Danny was evacuated just a week after I suffered my own combat injuries on an Italian hillside. Our battlefields were only a mile apart. We first met weeks later in Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich. Danny arrived there ahead of me. He weighed just 93 pounds and was now missing his arm, but he was upbeat and optimistic. His surgeries were complete, and he was rehabilitating. I was laying on a stretcher. My surgeries were yet to come.
Recovering from combat wounds can be a long, painful and often emotionally challenging process. It’s hard to describe the importance of having a close friend who can be a confidant, an empathetic ear and a good distraction. We played a lot of bridge, and Danny was as good as they come.
Danny and I spoke shortly before his release from the hospital. His injuries would keep him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor, so he asked what I intended to do when I was released. I shared my intention to run for political office, starting locally in Kansas and working my way up to the Senate, and hopefully higher.
Danny famously followed, “the Bob Dole plan.” And, as history proves, he was as great a politician as he was a bridge player. He managed to be elected to the Senate before me. Shortly after taking office, he called me and said, “Bob I’m here. Where are you?”
Sen. Daniel Inouye was an extremely effective senator. He was not partisan. He worked with everyone, and he never said a bad word about a colleague. When Danny passed away, I paid my respects as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol’s rotunda. Both injuries and time had begun to get the best of me, so I spent much of my time seated. But I made sure to walk up to Danny’s casket. He dedicated and nearly gave his life to our nation. He deserved one more standing salute.
Sen. Bob Dole is a supporter of the Army Historical Foundation, the Army's official partner for the campaign to build the National Museum of the United States Army. The museum is currently being constructed at Fort Belvoir, Va. For more information, go to www.armyhistory.org.
Updated with the date of Sen. Daniel Inouye's death.