Meeting Bob Dole in Wichita

Meeting Bob Dole in Wichita

Meeting Bob Dole in Wichita

On Friday, America said goodbye to Bob Dole: US Senator, World War II hero, and son of Kansas. Many years ago, my husband and I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with him. It happened when we were celebrating our anniversary, and I was a wee bit tipsy.

My husband and I met in Wichita, KS, where I was attending graduate school. We married there, and lived in Wichita for a number of years. On our first anniversary, we decided to celebrate at the restaurant of the hotel where we held our reception.

To his surprise, my husband spotted Sen. Dole at a nearby table. “That’s Bob Dole!” he told me. And, since I had had a glass of wine (or maybe two?), I had more than enough liquid courage to walk over to the table to introduce myself. My poor husband was mortified, but he came with me. Dole stood up and graciously shook our hands, taking time from his conversation with another man to meet us.

Not long after that, the senator came over to our table and talked with us for a while. I honestly don’t remember what he said, nor did I take any pictures. After all, this was long before the miracle of smart phones — Steve Jobs was probably still laboring in his parents’ garage on his first computer at the time.

Needless to say, that was an anniversary to remember.


Bob Dole in World War II

But Bob Dole meant more to me than just another senator. He was also the senator from my adopted home state of Kansas. Plus, he also served in Italy during World War II, as did my father. My dad was attached to a heavy bomber group of the 15th Army Air Force stationed in Italy. Dole served in the ground war as a Second Lieutenant of the 10th Mountain Division. And while my father came home in one piece, Dole didn’t. He took a bullet to his right shoulder, which fractured a vertebrae in his neck. Bob Dole lay in his foxhole for nine hours before being transported to an Army field hospital. No one there expected him to live.

He did survive, of course, though he never regained use of his right hand. And as a result of his service in World War II, he pushed for recognition of his fellow veterans by working to establish the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

Actor Tom Hanks was part of that effort. He remembered Bob Dole and his dedication to America’s war heroes in a speech at the WWII Memorial on Friday.


Bob Dole and Dr. Hampar Kelikian

Another group of people hold Bob Dole in high regard because he championed their little-known cause. These people are Armenian-Americans, who remember how Dole advocated for recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

You may not know why Dole supported their cause. I only found out because of the story a dear friend and colleague of mine told me. She is Armenian on her mother’s side, and her grandparents were refugees of the genocide.

My friend told me how an Armenian-American surgeon, Dr. Hampar Kelikian, performed seven operations on the disabled Bob Dole from 1947-1953, refusing to take payment. Through his relationship with Dr. Kelikian, Dole learned about the Armenian Genocide for the first time, in which 1.5 million Christian Armenians were exterminated by the Turks. Dr. Kelikian was also a survivor of that genocide.

Bob Dole/Hampar Kelikian

Sen. Dole with Dr. Hampar Kelikian, 1969. Dole Archive Collections, University of Kansas/Public domain.


Champion for Armenian-Americans

In gratitude to the doctor, and in horror of what happened to the Armenians — especially in light of the monstrous Jewish Holocaust of World War II — Bob Dole worked for years to bring knowledge of what happened to the Armenians to the American public. In 1990, he tried to pass a resolution that would formally recognize the genocide by the United States. Dole said on the Senate floor:

“For the one million Armenians in this country, the wounds have been open for almost 75 years, and the hurt is not going to be able to heal because the world has not faced up to the truth of the suffering of the Armenian people in this period of 1915-1923 … because the world stood by and did nothing.”

However, he received pushback from Turkey, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), and, sadly, Republican President George H.W. Bush, a fellow WWII vet. And despite his efforts, Bob Dole never saw his resolution pass, although he continued to raise awareness of the Armenian genocide. However, he did live long enough to see President Joe Biden recognize the genocide, calling it long overdue.

Looking back on the legacy of Bob Dole, and upon that chance meeting with him in a Wichita hotel restaurant, I’m proud to say that I briefly met the man. He was not only a hero of World War II, but an advocate of a long-forgotten atrocity as a result of his own chance relationship with one of its survivors. He also served my adopted state of Kansas well. Bob Dole epitomized the Kansas state motto, ad astra per aspera — to the stars through difficulties.


Featured image: Bob Dole meeting WWII vets on Memorial Day. Bill Read/flickr/cropped/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!


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