LAWRENCE, Kan. – The institute named for Bob Dole (search) will be about the study of politics, but the celebration will be more about the former U.S. senator's fellow World War II veterans.
That's the way he wants it for the dedication of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics (search) on the University of Kansas campus Tuesday, Dole's 80th birthday.
"We are the disappearing generation," Dole said of World War II veterans in telephone interview from his Washington office. "We are sort of passing the torch."
As an Army officer, Dole was wounded while serving in Italy and required years of therapy. Even then his right arm was all but unusable, forcing him to change plans from medicine to law. He also chairs the World War II Memorial Commission (search) that is building a monument in Washington.
The tribute to Dole starts Saturday afternoon in a large, air-conditioned tent where veterans will recount the war. Speaking over the four days will be Medal of Honor (search) recipients, Navajo Code Talkers (search), members of Doolittle Raiders (search), Tuskeegee airmen (search) and prisoners of war.
Inside the institute, covering a 400-square-foot wall, will be 960 8-by-10 photographs of Kansans who served in World War II. Dole said he hopes to get more photographs to display.
Dole's Army uniform, the dogtags he wore when wounded in Italy and his Purple Heart medal will be displayed in front of a large stained-glass window of the American flag, flanked by two 10 1/2-foot metal beams from the World Trade Center.
On display in 18 showcases are scores of items from Dole's years in his hometown of Russell, his war years and his political career - as a legislator, county attorney, congressman, senator, Senate Majority Leader and the 1996 Republican presidential candidate.
Items include the cigar box used to collect donations at a Russell drug store for the "Bob Dole Fund" after the war. Throughout the years, Dole kept that box on his desk as a reminder of those who helped him when he needed it.
Scores of dignitaries, including former Presidents Carter and Ford and former Sen. George McGovern, are scheduled to be on hand along with friends and family of Dole. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will represent the White House.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Monday will receive the first Dole Prize for Leadership (search), which will be presented annually.
"It's going to be a show of nonpartisanship, which I think is a good idea from time to time," Dole said. "We are getting together as friends."
Established in 1997, the institute's goal is to encourage student participation and citizen involvement in public service. Construction began in 2001 on the $11-million, 28,000 square-foot building, financed mainly from private donations.
"It's not going to be about Bob Dole's politics, or about Republican politics. It's about politics in the generic sense, why it's important and why people should be involved," Dole said.
As a research center, a key component will be some 4,100 boxes of Dole's personal papers. Institute director Richard Norton Smith called it the largest collection of congressional papers anywhere. He said only about 200 boxes have been cataloged and a reading room set up for scholars.
Asked if he knows what was in the boxes, Dole quipped, "I think there's a $100 bill in one of them."
Each year, the institute will sponsor the Dole Lecture on international politics and the annual Presidential Lecture Series dealing with the presidency. Academic programs will be added.
There will be meeting rooms, offices and a state-of-the art media center for lectures and seminars capable of beaming television signals around the world.
Dole knows what he will do when he arrives Sunday with his wife, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.
"I can't wait to see it. The first thing we're going to do when we get off the plane is head for the building," Dole said. "I don't deserve it, but I am excited."