It was in April 1945, Dole remembered yesterday, that he and Inouye “became members of the ‘disabled community.’” He said that with the sort of laugh hard to summon years ago, when Inouye introduced him to bridge and beat him repeatedly at it. They were injured within days and miles of each other. Both had many miles to go.
“Danny paid the price and went through a lot,” he said in the clipped style of the Dole vernacular — no verbal ornaments, no flights of rhetorical excess, an art form learned on the Kansas plains and honed in a hospital ward, where Inouye once said that he never saw Dole actually stand, and that it was possible to look into the man’s eyes and see hurt and pain — but also steely determination.
Inouye once told me: “I have seen him smile though he was in intense pain.”
In later years Dole, who could not cut his own steak but would buy a 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity with crank windows, would express boundless admiration for Inouye. “Danny was exemplary,” Dole said. “He took it on the chin. He never looked back. He was very courageous.” In the Dole repertoire — deep feeling, few syllables — those last three sentences constitute a virtual aria.
These two men were tied by so much more than party and profession.
“Both were of a nature not to make a big point of their troubles, but each had an enormous amount of respect and care for the other,” said Kassebaum Baker. “Danny probably more than Bob was open about all of this. Bob has always been very stoic. There are some things he cares the most about that he’d probably never talk about. This is one of them. He and Danny understood something together.”
There was one other understanding, rooted in Battle Creek. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine remembers talking with Inouye at the Rudman memorial and hearing an unforgettable story — of how the bedridden Dole told Inouye he was going to return to Kansas, go into politics and somehow get to Congress. Inouye beat him there: He became Hawaii’s first House member 15 months before Dole was elected.
“I called him up,” Mitchell remembers Inouye saying, “and told him, ‘I’m here — where are you?’”
Dole would be there soon enough.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.