In a rare moment of bipartisanship, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole on Wednesday received the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian honor – for his service to the country as a “soldier, legislator and statesman.”
Dole, who received a standing ovation, was awarded the medal by President Trump at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. Congressional leaders from both parties spoke of Dole’s service in and out of office.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called him a man “as honorable as they come” and added “because of you, America is much better.”
Dole said he was “extremely honored” to receive the award and thanked his colleagues and staff, and all the speakers for their “kind words.”
Then, in a flash of his trademark wit, Dole said of the tributes, "They're probably not true, but they're kind."
Born in Russell, Kansas, in 1923, Dole grew up during the Great Depression and was a pre-med student at the University of Kansas when he enlisted in the Army.
He was grievously injured during an offensive in Italy as he tried to save another soldier. Despite multiple operations, Dole was left with a virtually unusable right arm and clenched hand, in which he often put a pen. He was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, among others.
Dole's website, BobDole.org, highlights his decades of experience in public life, including his role as a U.S. senator from Kansas from 1969–1996. He served part of that time as Senate majority leader. Dole was also the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, but lost the election to Bill Clinton.
Dole has been a lifelong advocate for disabled Americans, highlighted by the key role he played in advancing the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
By then, he had begun collecting more of the nation's highest honors. President Ronald Reagan gave Dole the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989. Clinton followed up with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1997.
"Son of the soil, citizen, soldier and legislator, Bob Dole understands the American people, their struggles, their triumphs and their dreams," Clinton said at the time.
"For all of the meaning of the medal he's getting today, the Purple Heart is the one he really cherishes."
Former Sen. John Warner of Virginia, exiting a Senate elevator on his way to the Rotunda on Wednesday, said of Dole: "He was a hell of a leader. For all of the meaning of the medal he's getting today, the Purple Heart is the one he really cherishes."
Dole loves tanning in the sun, often saying some of his best thinking was done on a West-facing terrace off the majority leader's office in the Capitol. Now named for him, the Robert J. Dole Memorial Balcony was covered in a frosty snow down the hall from Wednesday's celebration in the Rotunda.
Dole, 94, was the only former GOP nominee to support Trump’s bid for the White House. At the time, the Trump campaign sent out a press release on the “special bond” Dole and Trump had formed.
Others who have earned the prestigious award include George Washington, Rosa Parks and Frank Sinatra.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.