4:11 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And I must say that it is my great honor to join you today, and to witness this incredible moment in history: the presentation of Congress’ highest civilian honor to our friend, a true American hero — Bob Dole.
And, Bob, it’s an honor to be here. Thank you very much. Great job. Great job. (Applause.)
Bob earned his place in the chronicle of American legends by the time he was 21. And in the decades since, he has never stopped earning his place in the pages of American history.
I also want to recognize Senator Elizabeth Dole. Elizabeth, that was beautiful. Your words were beautiful. Thank you very much. You’ve been my friend for a long time. Thank you very much. And you’ve meant so much to our country, and done so much for so many. And I know that very well. Thank you. (Applause.)
Everything we’ve heard today reminds us of the thoughts of Second Lieutenant Dole when he was more than 4,000 miles away from where are today, many years ago. As his body lay paralyzed against a cold, jagged Italian hill, his thoughts went back home — back to that small town in Russell, Kansas. On Hill 913 in those darkest moments, Bob Dole had home in his heart. He wanted to go home.
And in the end, it was home that saved him. Home was his grandma, who believed that he would walk when the doctors doubted that he would even live. It was his mother, whose love and cooking fueled the fight to move his legs just a half-inch higher each and every day — half-an-inch each day, Bob. “Half-an-inch,” she would say, “each day.”
It was Dawson’s Drug Store on Main Street where a cigar box sat on the counter to solicit donations for his so many surgeries. Home was where Bob Dole learned that classic American grit — he knows about grit — that got him through 39 months in hospitals. It was where he learned the values of loyalty and integrity, hard work, faith, and family that have defined him ever since.
“To the stars through difficulties” is the state motto. “To the stars through difficulties” — it’s a beautiful motto of the truly great state of Kansas, and the perfect description for Senator Dole’s extraordinary life.
From his first year as a young representative from Kansas, to his tenure as Majority Leader of the United States Senate, all the way to today, Bob Dole has never stopped fighting for those values. He fights for Kansas, for veterans, for the disabled, and for all of his fellow Americans — and he always has.
Tens of thousands of veterans have bordered [boarded] Honor Flights to visit the World War II Memorial thanks to, in great measure, Bob Dole. Nearly every day, at the memorial, you can see tough war heroes in their eighties and nineties moved to tears. And many recount the unforgettable experience of being greeted at their memorial, and much to their surprise, by Senator Dole — somebody they have great respect for.
One World War II veteran from Ohio wrote him after a visit. He told him that, before he traveled on the Honor Flight — that’s capital “H,” capital “F” — very important, Honor Flight — to see the memorial, he felt like he hadn’t amounted to very much; he didn’t feel good about himself. But when he came to Washington, met Senator Dole, and saw the memorial to his service, he said, “I truly felt like a hero for a day. I’ve never felt any better.”
That’s because he remembered he was part of something much greater than himself. He was an American patriot who defended freedom in its need of hour. He really went out and he defended it more than ever.
Those who wear our nation’s uniform are part of an unbroken chain of heroes. Their sacrifice, Bob’s sacrifice keeps us safe and prosperous and free. Long after we are gone, when our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit that extraordinary tribute on the National Mall, they will no longer find World War II veterans gazing up at their memorial to their friends and their deeds; they will be gone.
But they will still stand in the place where our heroes have stood for so many years. Their hearts will be filled by the beauty and reverence of that grand memorial, and they will hear the story of a great man who rose up from a small town in the heart of America to become a soldier, and a congressman, and leader admired by all. They will hear the story of Bob Dole. And in hearing that story, they will truly learn what it means to be a great American.
Bob, that is the legacy you have left our nation, and it will outlive us all. You’re a friend. You are a patriot, a hero, a leader — and, today, you have become a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal. It’s an honor to be with you, Bob. Thank you for your service. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
4:18 P.M. EST