A Soldier's Story

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," May 30, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Memorial Day is a solemn time for remembering those who have died in our wars, but also a day for celebrating our hard-won freedom. In that spirit, FOX News correspondent Major Garrett sat down with a former soldier who survived harrowing experiences on the battlefield and went on to serve his country in other vital roles, former Senator Bob Dole.


MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Senator Dole, thanks so much for joining us this Memorial Day. But your book is really not about what Memorial Day is all about. It’s about living. It’s about living as a soldier. It’s about living and recuperating as a wounded soldier.

Did you hesitate to write this book until you got out of Congress, your political career was essentially over, or did you write it in response to those wounded soldiers you’ve met most recently as a result of Afghanistan and Iraq?

BOB DOLE, FORMER SENATOR AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Probably none of the above. I wrote it because I found this treasure trove of letters — about 300 or 400 letters — my sister had. And she told me a couple of years ago, "I have got all of these letters if you’d like to have," in which I — yes, I could have used those in my campaign.

But that was sort of the inspiration for me to write the book, because the letters, if you read the book, the letters sort of make the book, letters to my mother, in particular. My father wrote three or four letters in his life, and one of them was written to me, and letters I’d written back and forth. So they’re sort of the centerpiece of the book.

GARRETT: There’s a sort of spare, kind of spartan quality to the letters themselves, both ones you wrote and the ones that were written back to you, kind of a clipped phraseology. What was the essence of those letters then, and what did you discover or rediscover when you saw them again?

DOLE: Well, the thing that I really rediscovered, and was it in all of the letters back and forth between my parents, myself, never a cross word, never a cross word from me and never a cross word from them, which made me feel very good.

Because I think, as you grow a little older, you respect your parents more, and when they’re gone, you wonder if you’ve done enough. If you, you know — did I call enough? Did I check on my mother? Did I check on my father enough? But I think that was sort of the bedrock, was the relationship I had with my parents.

GARRETT: And it’s obvious, after you were wounded so severely, you had to dictate a couple of letters.

DOLE: Oh, yes.

GARRETT: It was impossible for you to write. And you were extremely protective of your condition and protective of your parents’ reaction. Why?

DOLE: Well, you know, they had another son in the service in New Guinea and a brother-in-law — my brother-in-law was in the service. They had other people to worry about and not just about Bob Dole, their one son. And so I made it, you know — I think I said in every case, you know, "I’m feeling good. I can move my hand a little bit today or my feet a little bit today. I’m getting better. Don’t worry about me," something to that extent.

GARRETT: Even though you were in very bad shape.

DOLE: I was in bad shape.

GARRETT: And as I read through the book, even at that time in Italy, you didn’t really understand or comprehend how bad a shape you were in?

DOLE: No, I mean, you know, you’re 19, 20-years-old. You’re not a doctor. You’re not told what your condition is, not even any conjecture about how soon you’ll recover.

So I just assumed that I had an injury, and I thought it would be OK, even though I couldn’t move my arms, or couldn’t move my legs, couldn’t go to the bathroom, and any of the basic things you do. Nobody told me I was in bad shape, so I assumed I would probably get better. And I did get much better, obviously, so...

GARRETT: The first letter you got from your mother was not optimistic, but it was sort of — and she obviously had no comprehension of the condition were you in. But its spirit was, "Let’s get on to the next stage. Let’s get on to the next event." What did that mean to you when you received it?

DOLE: It may have been the one she wrote on the day I was wounded, you know, she just...

GARRETT: Not knowing?

DOLE: Yes, not knowing, and saying the war is about over, good news. And she’s hoping President Truman will do as well as President Roosevelt. And she was a big Roosevelt fan, which I learned in the letter. They weren’t really that active in politics, but it was just — you know, she wanted the war to end. She wanted me to come home, wanted me to go back to school again.

GARRETT: When you got back home, obviously, the letters ceased to be as active a part of your recuperation. Your parents were there for a while when were you in Kansas. They couldn’t be there as much when you went to Battle Creek, Michigan.

What was all of that like as a soldier? And what lessons does it — how do those lessons apply to those who are trying to face recuperation now, lost limbs, paralysis?

DOLE: I think it’s pretty much the same. I mean, people have different injuries. They have different recovery times. You know, with some amputees, it’s a terrible thing to happen. But the recovery period is less. They’re back and doing what they are able to do generally very quickly.

But the bottom line is, we go out Walter Reed Medical Center, for example, and there’s a single guy there, generally his mother is standing by his side while he’s doing his exercise, while he’s eating. And mothers are wonderful people, and we don’t, as I said earlier, realize it as much until we get a little older.

GARRETT: You’re very candid in the book about despair. There were times when you were extremely depressed, angry.

DOLE: Angry, bitter.

GARRETT: People would come talk to you and you would just...

DOLE: I didn’t want to talk to them.

GARRETT: That’s real.

DOLE: That’s real. I mean, it was — I couldn’t figure it out. I mean, you know, why did this happen to me? And why didn’t it — you know, the war was about over. Why did it have to happen three weeks before the war ended?

But you finally get over it. I mean, you finally learn to deal with it. You’re either going to deal with it or you’re going to be in misery the rest of your life. And my doctor told me one day, in effect, said — he called me captain — he said, "Captain, you’ve got to grow up and get on with your life." That was good advice.

GARRETT: Are you able to communicate that when you visit soldiers now? You also write in the book that it’s much more important than people who don’t visit realize to have strangers come by and just — you don’t need to come up with some super wise thing. You just need to say hello.

DOLE: Just say, "Hello," and, "How are you doing," and, "Happy to be here," and, "Where are you from?" And just the questions like — you know, draw them out a little bit. "When did this terrible thing happen to you? And anything I can do to help?" You know, it’s a very easy conversation.

And you’ll find that most of these young men and women are a little embarrassed about their condition. You know, they may look away a little bit. But pretty soon, they’ll be talking face-to-face, just as we are, and happy that somebody came by and told them in five magic words, "Thank you for your service."

GARRETT: Senator Dole, thank you very much.

DOLE: Thank you.

GARRETT: Happy Memorial Day. Always good to see you.


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