The former senator uses letters he wrote home during the war to help tell his story.
By JEFF DOUGLAS
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
"One Soldier's Story: A Memoir." By Bob Dole. HarperCollins. 287 Pages. $25.95.
Bob Dole doesn't deny that some obstacles in his life have been easier due to his fame as a politician.
But well before his failed 1996 presidential run and his decades as an upstanding statesman, on April 14, 1945, he was Army 2nd Lt. Dole, paralyzed and near death in the Italian Alps. The years that immediately followed would prove to be an obstacle far bigger than his future political career.
As the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II is commemorated, Dole recounts the day that changed his life in "One Soldier's Story."
Using letters written home as a roadmap, Dole's emotional memoir of his recovery from a crippling battle wound chronicles the life of a broke soda jerk turned college frat boy, then soldier turned public servant.
Dole could have walked down the Nazi's heavily guarded Hill 913 unscathed if a shell hadn't shredded his shoulder and damaged his spine. The war in Europe ended less than a month later and he might have returned home to become not Sen. Dole but Dr. Dole, a career path he had envisioned for much of his life.
In his memoir, he often questions why events occurred the way they did. Why was he only wounded, while nearly 100 of his comrades died on that day? Why did he not die during his recovery when his temperature rose dangerously high, forcing the removal of a kidney?
"It's taken me 60 years to come to grips with the toughest questions of life," Dole writes. "And in some small way, this book is my answer."
At 81, Dole appears to hold back little. He shares fraternity pranks, moneymaking schemes and the painful breakup with his college sweetheart.
He's also candid about his first wife, Phyllis Holden, who played a key role in his physical recovery. (Dole still has limited use of his right hand.)
His somber story occasionally is met with the dry humor some know him for, and he is at ease with being the target of comedians for his habit of referring to himself in the third person.
While Dole plots his story with the kind of well-crafted suspense one might expect from a veteran writer, his technique in sharing his memoir is fitting for a good ol' boy from Russell, Kan. The style is simplistic and packed with folklike storytelling elements.
"If you've ever had your arm or leg fall asleep ... you know that weird funny feeling. Now, imagine that your entire body fell asleep for several weeks," Dole writes to describe how he felt when he was paralyzed from the neck down.
It's quite easy to forget that the young man maturing from page to page is now a well-known politician, primarily because there's little focus on Dole's later career. Instead, he's just Bob, a wide-eyed young man with a strong work ethic -- an athlete and the first in his family to attend college.
"Dear Folks" begins many of his letters, and one written from the University of Kansas reads, "I hated to send all this laundry home, but it costs too much."
He's a typical young man from what some have called the "greatest generation," from a time when victory gardens and rationing were the norm.
Dole writes that, in essence, his story is a variation of those of thousands of other men and women to whom he dedicated his book -- the servicemen, mothers and fathers who lived through the war that kept the world safe for democracy.