Bob Dole,
One Soldier's Story
(Harper, 2006)

Young people might recognize Bob Dole as a former politician who now occasionally does commercials, most of which include some self-deprecating humor. People who are a bit older will recognize him as the man whom Bill Clinton defeated in a presidential campaign, a long-term senator and the vice presidential runningmate to former President Gerald Ford. Everyone who sees Dole will likely notice there is something wrong with his right arm, and some will know it is a war injury.

There is much more to Bob Dole, the man, than that, and it can be found in this moving, sometimes humorous, always straightforward memoir, which focuses most on his life from early childhood through his recuperation from his injuries in World War II.

One Soldier's Story starts by describing Dole's childhood and adolescence, growing up in Russell, Kansas. We learn much about his family and his community, with a strong emphasis on the character of the people who had an impact on Dole. The phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" has often been mentioned in recent years, but here is a good description of how the people in one's life affect how a person will turn out. Dole tells how many people, through what they said and by how they lived, taught him and prepared him to face a challenge bigger than any political campaign could ever be.

Once we know about how Dole lived into early adulthood, we learn a lot about how World War II affected this nation and how it dramatically affected Dole. He went through a lot of training, both basic and technical, before setting foot on a battlefield in northern Italy right near the end of the war. Once he reached that battlefield, though, he suffered life-threatening injuries that profoundly affected him physically, and equally profoundly challenged his character. Using the values he learned as a child and young man, and with the support of his family, his friends and many dedicated professionals, Dole met that challenge.

One Soldier's Story is a well-written memoir that moves along briskly while giving you a very clear sense of who Dole is, both by what he tells you and by the very direct, straightforward way in which he tells his story. This is a very tough man, in the sense of being incredibly resilient, adaptable, steadfast and determined. Dole also makes it clear the credit for his successes belongs to many people. He ends the book by moving to the bigger picture of how much the people of this nation owe those who serve it, and by how we all have the potential to make a positive effect on those around us.

I am not, in general, a big fan of autobiographies or memoirs, but I really enjoyed this fine book about a good man. There is very little about Dole the politician in the book; as suggested by the title, this book is mainly about how Dole's military experience impacted his life.

While I have led a very different life from Dole, I found much in this book that was reinforcing and inspirational. I am a quadriplegic from a diving accident when I was 15, and I clearly identify with the challenges that Dole has faced, and with how the support of family and friends can strongly impact a person's ability to succeed, despite the adversities of life.

I think that this book would be enjoyable and important to many people, regardless of their political beliefs. I strongly recommend it.

by Chris McCallister
9 December 2006

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