Bob and Elizabeth Dole: Remembering legacy of George H.W. Bush and the Greatest Generation
Our nation mourned last week the passing of a cherished servant leader who was truly the man for all seasons. President George H. W. Bush brought wisdom, a keen sense of mission and diplomacy, incomparable patriotism, along with compassion and humanity, to every assignment he accepted on behalf of the American people. Through his repeated answers to our nation’s call to serve — as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president and the 41st president of the United States — he left an indelible mark on the course of our nation. He will forever stand as one of the finest examples of what it means to be an American.
The world has heard so many wonderful and deserved tributes to the individual legacy of President Bush. As last week also marked the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, we should also pause to recognize President Bush’s role in the collective legacy of the Greatest Generation and reflect on the significance of yet another World War II hero lost to time.
Military service was commonplace in WWII
Military service was commonplace during that war. Americans capable of serving dutifully raised their hands. Those who did not wear the uniform supported those who did. For our part, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the mountains of Italy with the 10th Mountain Division. Elizabeth, much too young to serve, vividly remembers her revered brother coming home on “survivors leave” after the Battle of Iwo Jima, and she continues to support the World War II soldier in her life today.
The sacrifices demanded by the Second World War touched every American. The burden was not carried by a mere few. The oath of service was pledged by citizens of every stripe, including a young man in a humble home in the quiet center of Kansas and a Senator’s son in Connecticut who postponed his Ivy League future to fight for his nation.
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The equalizing experience of war was not lost on President Bush. Reflecting on the war only a few years ago, the president said, “It brought me into contact with a broad cross-section of Americans that only deepened my admiration for our nation and people.”
The Greatest Generation — comprised of blue and gold star families spurred future generations of leaders who intimately knew the price of freedom. When our nation faced potential threats, these leaders considered the decision to deploy our troops, knowing all too well the physical and emotional scars of combat. When they saw veterans, their families or their caregivers struggling without support, they stepped in because they witnessed first-hand the challenges of life after war. And so many leaders, including President Bush, dedicated their lives to public service because they knew they were fortunate to return home alive.
Most importantly, the years of World War II taught our leaders — and all Americans — the value of working together for the good of our country, with a firm belief that beyond political party — above all else — we are Americans bound by common, timeless values.
We must not forget lessons taught at such a high price
World War II was perhaps the single greatest unification of the American people in our nation’s history. Americans felt a joint commitment to our country and to each other. In the darkest hours of the war, the idea of unity was not a simple platitude. It was responsible for our very survival. As President Ronald Reagan remarked on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day, “From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure.”
As a nation, we must promise ourselves that when we lose World War II heroes such as President Bush, we will not forget the lessons taught from their legacies. In remembrance of the president, let us all recommit ourselves to rise above the superficial divides that fracture our nation and come together as Americans. Let us remember to see the humanity in each other, take time to understand each other, and appreciate the value inside each and every one of us. As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, our unity is the pillar of our independence.
As a member of President Bush’s cabinet and his close colleague and friend on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, we fondly remember watching the president demonstrate these values, day in and day out. Of course, President Bush’s dedication and love for America and its people did not begin when he entered the White House. It was inspired by the events almost 50 years before. That is why, as the president lay in state last week, Elizabeth mourned not only a former boss she loved and greatly admired, but the type of courageous pilot who had kept the skies above her brother safe. And it’s why Bob summoned the strength to rise one more time and salute President Bush, soldier to sailor, reminding all of us of a time when our nation was at its best.
Former Senator Bob Dole is national chairman of the WWII Memorial Campaign, and former Senator Elizabeth Dole is president and founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Follow Sen. Dole on Twitter: @SenatorDole
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