By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Memories and appreciation for Senator Bob Dole’s legacy were expressed during a town hall meeting Thursday.
Dole received an opening and closing ovation from the Pawnee County crowd, which thanked him for his public service which has helped the Fort Larned National Historic Site over the years.
Dole’s legacy is built on a commitment to the U.S. military and its veterans, a political career marked by compromise and advocacy for people with disabilities.
“I come from a place where common-sense people live,” Dole said. “Most good legislation is common sense.”
The 90-year-old Dole showed off a quick wit that kept the audience laughing, including the time he asked a government employee how many people worked at his facility.
“About half,” the employee said.
Jennifer Wyman related how Dole interceded on behalf of her father, who was able to see her mother, Linda, give birth Sept. 1, 1971 in Larned.
“The very first guy who spoke to you in Olathe was Earl Boutell. He thanked you for giving him three weeks furlough to see the birth of his daughter, his only child. That’s me,” Wyman said. “That meant a lot to my dad and my mother. I wanted to say thank you too.”
Leawood’s Earl Boutell was a U.S. naval seaman in 1971 stationed near San Francisco, preparing for deployment to Vietnam. Boutell wrote to Dole, who managed to help Boutell with a leave after his initial request was denied.
Boutell publicly thanked Dole at an earlier public meeting in Olathe.
“If not for him I would have missed her birth,” Boutell said. “It changed my life. I didn’t think I was ever going to see my daughter.”
Dole considers his political highlight a 1983 compromise struck with Daniel Moynihan, a New York Democrat, to shore up a Social Security system headed for insolvency. The deal increased payroll taxes for employees and employers.
“The Social Security trust fund wasn’t big enough to pay your full check unless we did something to fix it,” Dole said. “We found a way to work it out. There were 30 million Americans who weren’t going to get their full checks. It was very controversial because we had to make changes.”
The next Social Security fix will likely occur in more than a decade when those under age 45 might be affected.
“Nobody wants to touch Social Security because it’s a hot political debate,” he said. “It’ll be fixed, but it will be a last-minute thing.”
Dole’s autobiography, “One Soldier’s Story: A Memoir,” told the story when Nazi shrapnel injured his shoulder and back. He endured years of surgeries and physical therapy.
He was instrumental in passing the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, calling it a piece of historic civil rights legislation at the time.
The ADA legislation has helped wounded veterans enjoy a better life since World War II. Constructing curb cuts in many cities has allowed disabled people the ability to be on equal stature.
“There are millions of disabled people in our country,” Dole said. “We talked for years about helping the disabled a better shot in life. We decided to tackle it. A lot of people have opportunities now. It’s made everything more accessible.”
Dole co-chaired a presidential commission investigating care of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His wife, Elizabeth, started a foundation to help injured soldiers’ families.
“There are a lot of people who want to help,” Dole said.
Dole recognized a couple of local veterans who had served in World War II. He led the fundraising effort for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He regularly greets Honor Flights of WWII veterans who come to see it. Congress donated $16 million and more than $180 million was raised privately.
The memorial opened to the public in 2004. It is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.
“They had a group that didn’t want it on the mall because it was sacred ground,” Dole said. “Our response was we saved the mall and everything else. The Honor Flight is a wonderful trip.”
Dole believes both parties have split their base.
“Both parties are split,” he said. “The Democrats have the traditional liberal Democrats who believe in higher taxes and more spending and regulation. Republican are split between the traditional Republican conservatives and the extreme conservatives.”
“President Reagan understood that sometimes you can’t get everything you want,” Dole said. “Sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes, you give a little to get a lot.”
Senator Hillary Clinton is the early front-runner for the Democrat presidential nomination. Dole wasn’t sure whether Hillary was serious about running, but he believed former president Bill Clinton is definitely interested in seeing Hillary run for president.
“There are a lot of young members of Congress who want to be president,” Dole said. “They need seasoning and experience.”