Today they are frail, seldom appearing in public. But while many men seem to shrink as they age, these two seem to have grown, perhaps not physically but surely in the eyes of the countrymen both sought to serve. Indeed, these men today sometimes seem to be giants.
Wait, you might say, don’t the political figures of old always seem bigger than those of the present, the way Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski and Hank Aaron seem more formidable in memory than today’s ballplayers do in reality? Aren’t these two men like Bart Starr and Jim Brown, dominant in their day but somehow larger than they really were now that they are firmly rooted in an era long past?
Perhaps not. Bush and Dole are of a different era — but also of a completely different outlook from today’s political figures.
They were personally ambitious, to be sure. Dole never was satisfied as a sovereign on Capitol Hill and, unlike House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., who devoutly believed that presiding over one of the houses of the Congress was more noble than serving in the White House, he ardently, almost maniacally, sought the presidency. Bush relentlessly pursued higher office as a higher calling than the oil business, which he entered shortly after graduating from Yale.
But despite their ambition, the two men — of different geographical, educational and economic backgrounds — shared service in World War II, where they both had distinguished records.
Bush flew 58 missions in a single-engine aircraft, one of which ended in a rescue at sea by a submarine, and won a Distinguished Flying Cross. Dole was injured in the last days of the war in Italy, winning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star but requiring years of surgery and therapy even to walk down the street in his hometown of Russell, Kan. They returned to civilian life with a strong sense of nation — and of national service.