The National World War II Memorial is one of the most popular monuments in Washington, D.C., but it might not have ever been built if it wasn’t for the help of the late Republican Sen. Bob Dole.
Dole, who died Sunday at the age of 98, played an integral role in securing more than $197 million for the construction of the monument, which sits prominently on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. A veteran himself, Dole was seriously wounded during the war and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions.
Dole served as national co-chairman of the memorial foundation with David Smith, chairman of FedEx Corporation and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. While the memorial received immense support, the foundation still needed to raise funds to get the project done. That’s where Dole, who by that time was a household name in politics, stepped in. But his efforts went further than just fundraising, he also helped push the project through a litany of bureaucratic hurdles and critics who didn't want to see the memorial built on the mall itself.
"He's so respected, his voice in that area was so critical and him taking on that mantle of defending the placement on the national mall, saying 'We deserve a place on the National Mall, we deserve to be represented, we deserve to be honored here,' was just so significant," Holly Rotondi, executive director of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, told the Washington Examiner."
Construction on the memorial began in September 2001. It was opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated by President George W. Bush one month later.
Dole’s work, however, was not done, and he remained dedicated to the project well into his 90s.
Rotondi recalled he was once invited to speak at the foundation’s dinner at the Occidental Restaurant in Washington, D.C. The group didn’t expect him to attend, as high-profile speakers were often too busy, but Dole himself called to accept.
“Elizabeth’s going to be out of town, so I’d be having a Swanson dinner if I did not,” Dole said, referring to his wife, Sen. Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole.
On the way to the event, Dole passed by a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with friends and family in the same restaurant. The group started to whisper as he walked by, clearly recognizing him from his days in politics.
“He stopped and greeted everyone. And I just always remember that moment. He’s just such a genuine, kind human being,” Rotondi said.
Even as his years took a toll on him physically, Dole would insist on fulfilling his “final mission” — visiting the memorial as often as he could, especially on Saturdays when WWII vets would travel to Washington on Honor Flights. Even as his aides told him it was time to go, Dole would insist on staying and greeting the sometimes hundreds of visitors.
He is survived by his wife and his daughter, Robin, whom he had from a previous marriage.