TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — After a final journey back to the prairie state that shaped him, Bob Dole was honored during memorial services Saturday in his western Kansas hometown as “the greatest of the Greatest Generation.”
Elected officials and former elected officials from both parties came to his western Kansas boyhood home of Russell to praise the military service during World War II that left him severely wounded and the distinguished political career that followed his recovery. The day’s events began with a public viewing of his casket and a memorial service at a Roman Catholic church in Russell, the small town some 240 miles (386 kilometers) west of Kansas City where he grew up during the Great Depression.
Another memorial was to follow Saturday afternoon in the state capital of Topeka, where Dole briefly served in the Kansas House in the 1950s. The dignitaries at both events included Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly; Kansas’ two Republican U.S. senators, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran, and former GOP U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Nancy Kassebaum Baker.
Dole died Sunday at the age of 98 after serving nearly 36 years in Congress and running as the GOP nominee for president in 1996.
Kelly said in remarks in Dole’s hometown that Russell was “where his roots run deepest.” Dignitaries in dark, formal business attire mixed in the congregation with local residents dressed in less former farm and work clothes, a KWCH-TV livestream showed.
“As we gather here today to come together to salute our state’s most favorite of favorite sons and the greatest of the Greatest Generation, we pause to reflect with immense gratitude on all that Bob Dole’s life meant to Kansas and to Kansans, to our nation and to the world,” Kelly said.
Later, she added, “It’s hard to imagine a Kansas without Bob Dole, and I’m not sure I want to.”
Dole also was honored Friday during a service at Washington National Cathedral as a senator who could practice bare-knuckle partisan politics without losing civility and as a patriot whose grit overcame serious wounds from combat in World War II in Italy in 1945. He was known for a caustic wit that he sometimes turned on himself.
The cathedral service included remarks by President Joe Biden. Another tribute followed at the World War II Memorial in Washington — a monument to Dole’s generation that he worked to get built. Among the speakers was actor Tom Hanks.
Dole will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but his casket was flown Friday evening to Salina, Kansas, then transported 70 miles (113 kilometers) west to his boyhood hometown, which now has about 4,400 residents.
Oil production allowed Russell to boom when Dole was growing up, even during the Great Depression, with the first local well drilled in 1923, the year he was born. In accepting his 1996 presidential nomination, Dole recalled a town surrounded by wheat and oil wells where “no one grows up without an intimate knowledge of distance.”
“And the first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land,” he said.