WASHINGTON, DC — Of all the poignant moments as dignitaries and everyday people filed past the flag-draped casket of President George Herbert Walker Bush as his body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, one of the most touching was historical as well. Bob Dole, the former senator from Kansas and, like Bush, a member of World War II’s “Greatest Generation,” rose dramatically from his wheelchair and saluted his former commander in chief.
Bush and Dole are in an exclusive club. Bush, 94, was the last U.S. president to have served in World War II, and Dole, 95, was the last World War II veteran to have campaigned for the presidency (he won the Republican Party’s nomination in 1996, but was defeated by President Bill Clinton).
Aides wheeled the frail and wheelchair-bound Dole into the Capitol Rotunda, helped him from the chair and steadied him for the final gesture of respect. The old soldier raised his left hand — a proper military salute is done with the right hand, but Dole lost use of it after he was badly injured in the war — and held it to his eyebrow. Well done, faithful servant, the salute seemed to say.
“A last, powerful gesture of respect from one member of the Greatest Generation, @SenatorDole, to another,” Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath tweeted after the former Senate majority leader paid his respects.
For several moments after aides helped him back into his wheelchair, Dole sat in quiet reflection before the casket of his former colleague and one-time political rival in the 1988 Republican presidential primary.
Both men knew that war is, as Union Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman declared, hell.
Dole was badly wounded in Italy during one of the final campaigns of the war in Europe. Both of his arms were badly injured, but the wounds were so severe he could not use his right arm or hand. His left hand was partially numb as well, according to a 1996 New York Times article.
Bush was a torpedo bomber pilot whose aircraft was shot down near the island of Chichi Jima in the Pacific. The future president floated at sea for several hours in an inflatable raft before he was rescued by sailors aboard the USS Finback submarine.
The two men had a special bond, and the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas is hosting a special memorial display honoring the legacy of the 41st president and his relationship with Dole.
In a statement with his wife, Elizabeth, Dole praised Bush as “a cherished servant leader who has truly been the man for all seasons.”
“President Bush answered the call to serve whenever our nation needed him — and we needed him often and in so many important capacities — congressman, vice president, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador to China and as the 41st president of the United States,” the Doles said. “He brought wisdom, a keen sense of mission and diplomacy, incomparable patriotism, along with compassion and humanity, to each and every assignment he accepted on behalf of the American people.”
Bush, who died Friday at his home in Houston, will lie in state at the Rotunda until Wednesday morning, when a motorcade takes his body to the Washington National Cathedral for an 11 a.m. memorial service for family and friends.
His body will arrive at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, and then lie in repose until 7 a.m. Thursday. Following an 11 a.m. service, his body will be taken by a special train to College Station, Texas, and he will be buried alongside his wife, Barbara, and daughter Robin in the family plot behind the Bush library complex on the Texas A&M University campus.
Image: Former Sen. Bob Dole salutes the flag-draped casket containing the remains of former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)