Recovered letters describe Dole's life at KU and in WWII

A day trip to Russell to pick up some of Bob Dole's personal items in his hometown netted much more for the newly dedicated Dole Institute of Politics at KU.

1943 Ever-Victorious Big 6 Champions basketball team. Bob Dole is second player from left in back row. Click here for complete list of Dole's teammates on the 1943 squad.

A treasure trove of forgotten letters home written between 1941 and 1945 by Bob Dole, then a young KU student and an Army lieutenant, along with replies from his family, was found stored away, untouched for decades, in the basement of Dole's family home.

The institute released excerpts of the letters on the eve of its four-day dedication celebration, attended by former President Jimmy Carter, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and many other dignitaries. (See photo gallery)

About 300 letters, 94 of them written by Dole, reflect Dole's life at KU and life in the Army and in Italy.

Dole wrote the first set of letters while he attended KU between September 1941 and December 1942. The early letters often focused on grades and sports achievements, but they sometimes accompanied loads of laundry, which Dole explained could be done more cheaply in Russell than in Lawrence.

April 1942 Jayhawker yearbook photo of Kappa Sigma fraternity class. Bob Dole is first on left in top row.

The early letters also addressed some of Dole's concerns about being called away to war.

"I haven't heard a word from the Army so I'm still going to school although I can't say that I'm getting much out of it," he wrote in the fall of 1942. "About every day we hear a different story as to when we will be called and I just can't see this studying when we will be called. My orders to report will come to Russell so as soon as you get them call me and let me know."

Dole was called to duty in December of that year. The next set of letters came to Russell from locations including Fort Leavenworth; Camp Barkeley, Texas; Brooklyn, N.Y; Camp Polk, La.; and Fort Benning, Ga., where Dole attended officer candidate school.

Dole relayed home information about his training. He said he got "tired of taking orders," but he supposed it would be good for him later on.

Dole also kept his sense of humor.

"Tomorrow is Sunday so we're going to church," he wrote from Camp Barkeley. "Moon' is going too, he's a little short on change and he thinks he can get a little out of the collection plate."

When Dole arrived in Italy in late 1944, he first reported on the conditions before requesting candy, Vicks VapoRub, wool socks, liver and onions, fruit cocktail and Frank Sinatra.

Navy Training. Sailors marched from their bunkhouse in Strong Hall to classes and to mess at least three times at day. They were among some 500 Navy machinists from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station for machinist training in Fowler Shops at KU.

"I guess you might as well send the whole house if you can get it in a 5-pound box," he wrote.

The Dole Institute will include the letters in its extensive collection of
Dole's personal and professional papers. The archive of the Dole Institute will house, preserve and make available Dole's House and Senate papers and the related papers of Dole staffers (more than 900 people worked for Dole between 1961 and 1996) and other close associates who played an important part in Dole's career and campaigns.

The collections will be a unique tool with which researchers and future generations of students may study the workings of American politics in the latter half of the 20th century.

The collection reflects Dole's 36 years, spanning 1961 through 1996, on Capitol Hill, and it consists of 4,000 boxes of papers and close to 1,000 square feet of artifacts. Because of Dole's extensive legislative career and his majority leadership position, it is the largest collection of one politician's papers outside of presidential collections - 60 percent larger than the Hubert Humphrey Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society and six times the size of the Tip O'Neill Collection at Boston College.

Read excerpts of the letters:

Life at KU

September 1941, Beginning of First Semester at KU

Dear Mom:
I hated to send all this laundry home but it costs too much down
here, shirts are 15 cents, shorts and short-shirts 6 cents, towels 5 cents and washrags 2 cents, socks 3 cents and that adds up pretty fast when you have as little money as I have...The only job that will trouble will be that milk delivery job. You get up at 5:00 and you're not through till around 8:30 or 9:00. That makes me miss part of my economics class which starts at 8:30. I'm sending two pair of pants home too...I'm also sending a list of the freshman rules, so that you won't have to worry about me.

November 1941

Dear Folks:
Well I suppose you think it's terrible because I haven't written but
I've been so busy studying for test besides my work and football and basketball practice. I guess Russell really poured it on Hays Tuesday...I asked our treasurer about putting a slot machine on second floor and he thought it would be a swell idea. He believes I could make around $5 a week. If I could do this I could quit one of my jobs and have more time for study.

March 2, 1942

Dear Folks:

...My grades are still O.K., so far I think I have around a B in German a B in Geology and a C in Rhetoric.

Fall 1942

Dear Mom and Dad:
...I haven't heard a word from the Army so I'm still going to school
although I can't say that I'm getting much out of it. About every day we hear a different story as to when we will be called and I just can't see this studying when we will be called. My orders to report will come to Russell so as soon as you get them call me and let me know.

I'm running the quarter for K.U. next week in Kansas City in the Big
Six indoor track meet. I will run against boys from Missouri, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska and Oklahoma. I haven't much chance to win but I'm sure going to try. The fastest anyone has run it indoors so far is 52 and my best time is 54 but I'm not in very good condition.

In December, 1942, the nineteen year old Dole signed up for the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps. Six months later he reported to an army base in his home state of Kansas.

Army Life

June 9, 1943, Ft. Leavenworth

Dear Folks:
How is everyone - I'm feeling fine and like it fairly well. Haven't
left here yet but expect to in a day or two. Probably going to Texas
although I don't know for sure...I made 130 on my test so I qualified for O.C.S., but I have to wait 6 months I imagine or at least until I finish Basic Training. After Basic Training which lasts 13 weeks they may send me back to school. Just depends on how I do...It sure would be easy to get mad at some of these sergeants, corporals and lieutenants around here but it doesn't pay so one just has to grin and bear it.

September 4, 1943, Camp Barkeley, Texas

Dear Dad:

...This Army life is O.K.; I get tired of taking orders, but it is
really going to be good for me later on. I'm the leader of my platoon, I'm right guide if you remember what that is. The sergeant likes me pretty well so I'm getting along pretty well. I'd like to be home, but there are about 7 million other boys who would like to be too. They keep us pretty busy and you'd be surprised how fast time passes. I don't get too homesick for being away to school 2 years helped me...Tomorrow is Sunday so we're going to church. "Moon" is going too, he's a little short on change and he thinks he can get a little out of the collection plate.

December 1943, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York

Dear Folks:

...I spent more time in school this week here than I did in a month
at K.U. They throw assignments at us so fast that we have to take our books to bed with us to keep up. I've already had seven tests and will probably have more this week...These New York people still think there are Buffalo and Indians in Kansas and they think the only city there is Kansas City. They believe anything that you will tell them so some of [the]Kansas boys have a lot of fun teasing the girls around here...Christmas is only a week away but it sure doesn't seem like Christmas for some reason...


March 20, 1944, Camp Polk, Louisiana

Dear Folks:

From the sidewalks of New York to the Swamps of Louisiana, oh how this Army changes. They've really kept us busy so far. We arrived here at 3:30 Thursday afternoon and at 10:30 that night we were out in the wide open spaces on maneuvers...I'm in the infantry attached to an Anti-tank outfit but until I learn more about it I can't explain what it is...This outfit is a little tougher than the medics but at least we have something to fight back with. They are giving us "Carbine" rifles and the Anti-tank company also is equipped with 57 mm guns, which are big and powerful...Tomorrow is an easy day so I may have time to write. I'm one A.S.T.P. boy they're not going to break, so don't worry about me, I even sort of like the place.


October 21, 1944, Fort Benning, Ga. (Officers Candidate School)

Dear Folks:

...We have 127 men now out of our original 200 so I'm pretty lucky
to still be here I guess. We had our last physical achievement test 3 weeks ago. I received a superior rating and was 1st in the company I think. We haven't been told how we rated yet but I know that I was pretty high. My grades are getting better now too. I have a "B" average now but we still have 6 more tests before graduation November 18th...(looking forward to Thanksgiving with his family
in Russell) I haven't figured out how I can get home yet. I don't know about the plane situation but if I take a train it will take me 2 days and nights to get home. I want to get home the fastest way I can even though it costs a little more... P.S. 27 More days to go-

Dole entered "the Benning School for Boys" a corporal; he left a
second lieutenant in December, 1944. Ahead was a two week Atlantic crossing, ending, a few days before Christmas, in Naples harbor. Dole was about to join the Tenth Mountain Division in the battle for Italy.

Italy

January 2, 1945

Dear Folks:

I haven't written for 3 days so here goes my first letter of 1945.
Hope you all had a Happy New Year, we had turkey for dinner, there wasn't much but what their (sic) was good. It's a little colder here than it was at my old station. We have a stove in our tent so we keep pretty warm most of the time...I've visited Florence since I arrived, it really is pretty nice since it hasn't been bombed...You can send me something to eat whenever you're ready. Send candy, gum, cookies, cheese, grape jelly, popcorn, nuts, peanut clusters, Vicks vapo-rub, wool socks, wool scarf, fudge cookies, ice cream, liver and onions, chicken, banana cake, milk, fruit cocktail, swiss steak, crackers, more candy, lifesavers, peanuts, piano, radio, living room suite, record player and Frank Sinatra. I guess you might as well send the whole house if you can get it in a 5 pound box. I would like some food though, honestly...Has my footlocker gotten home yet, don't forget to check on it if it doesn't get there in six weeks. I've got some wool socks in it that I could sure use now. P.S. Keep your fingers crossed.!!

February 20, 1945

Dear Norma Jean (Dole's sister):

...Let me know whether you've received your January allotment check or not yet. Save it for yourself for I'd really like to see you go to school. Somebody should be a college graduate in our family and it may as well be you. Think it over seriously now-still not much doing where I am, I'm almost getting lazy from doing nothing. Almost all my buddies are gone so it shouldn't be much longer for me...P.S. Let me know if any of my mail has been censored?

March 13, 1945

Dear Folks:

I hope you haven't worried too much because you haven't received any mail from me. I think its been about 2 weeks since I've written. I've really been keeping pretty busy. I've got a platoon of men to look out for and it means that I never have much time to myself. When I'm not busy I've generally got a big stack of mail to censor. I'm a combat soldier now folks. I suppose you've been reading about the 10th Mountain Division in the paper the last few weeks. We've really
done some pretty good work so far and I hope we can continue to do as well. I'm feeling better than ever so far. I guess this outdoor life agrees with me. I'm starting to get a suntan since the weather has warmed up. We are in a rest area now so whenever I do have a chance to write you'll know that I'm writing from a rest center. It is really nice around here, we are living in a hotel and I really enjoy sleeping nights in a bed, instead of a foxhole. A foxhole isn't as bad as you probably think, we generally fill the bottom with straw which makes it pretty comfortable. I received your letters written the day after you returned home from Yuma. I'm sorry to hear about all the Russell boys being killed or wounded but I'm glad you write and tell me anyway. I guess so many were meant to be killed in this war, there's nothing either you or I can do but trust in God and pray that he will look after us.

March 21, 1945

Dear Mom & Dad:
...When I'm not in my foxhole ducking German artillery I'm generally on night patrols or trying to catch some sleep. I'm pretty dirty night now, I haven't shaved or washed for several days but I guess it won't hurt me any. I can't see why the Jerrys don't give up but I'm just a second lieutenan who doesn't know too much about the big picture.

March 31, 1945

Dear Mom and Dad:

...I've been hoping that I might get a pass but so far I've been
unfortunate. I'm a new officer in the company so consequently I've been catching all the assignments. Eventually I'll get caught up with the other officers and may be I'll get a few of the breaks...Keep the packages coming, I received one 3 days ago, it contained candy bars and sunflower seeds. I'm the "OD" today, there's not much to it but I'm not getting much sleep nevertheless. I think I get more sleep on the lines than I do when we are in a rest area. There's really not much danger in the lines a few artillery and mortar rounds now and then. The thing I dislike most is night patrols, I think I age about ten years on each patrol. You can't see a thing, which is probably the worst part of it. I've led quite a few patrols and I'm gradually getting used to it. Tomorrow I intend on reading all my letters again and I'll try to
answer some of the questions in them. I'm going to sleep for a while now so don't forget the packages. I hope Russell Hi won the State Tournament----------------------

April 4, 1945

Dear Mom, Dad:

...I finally got a break and wound up in Rome. It's really swell here almost like home, but it won't last long. I was very fortunate today I ran in to Dean Nesmith and Bill Hargiss who are in Rome conducting a sports program. Nesmith was our trainer at K.U. and Hargess was my track coach. I've spent the entire day visiting with them. I've a pretty good chance of going to the next class if I do I'll be back in Rome before too long. Maybe you've read about the Sports School in
the K.C. paper. A class lasts 2 weeks and is composed of 60 men, half officers and ½ enlisted men. During the two week period you are taught practically every sport in the business. What they are trying to do is to develop instructors for the post war world. If I'm lucky enough to get in I'll let you know. I'd sure like to relax for 2 weeks with nothing to do but play basketball, football, and run. I plan on taking a tour tomorrow to see some of the sights that I used to study in history. I had my first plane ride yesterday. I caught my ride from Florence to Rome, it was really a thrill. I'm really convinced now that the Air Corp is a racket. I think I'd trade my bars for a (P.F.C.) stripe in the Air Corp. They go home after 50 missions we stay until the war ends. When I saw Coach Hargiss and my old trainer Nesmith I was convinced that I'm going back to school. Primarily to study but also to compete in athletics. I love to play basketball and football and compete in track meets. I hope I'm not too old when the war ends for I really want to do a lot of things.


April 7, 1945

Dear Mom, Dad:

What a life. I can hardly believe that I'm living in such a wonderful place. My rest is about over, but I've really enjoyed myself so far. I'm going on a tour this afternoon also one tomorrow morning. I should see about everything when I've finished. The radio is playing it reminds me of the times that I've been home paying Norma Jean's records. So far I haven't heard any records by Frank Sinatra. I guess he isn't too popular over here. The war news really sound good. I guess Russia plans on helping us with Japan. Keep your eyes on the news for big things to happen. Had a fine breakfast this morning, scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato juice, toast and coffee. I sure miss my quart of milk per day. Tell Aunt Mildred to be sure to save some for Kenny and I when we get home.

One week after this letter was written, Dole was severely wounded
while leading a charge against a heavily fortified German position in the hills around the northern Italian village of Castel d'Aiano, not far from Bologna. For the next three years he was in and out of hospitals, unable to dress or feed himself, his weight reduced at one point from 194 to 122 pounds. With the help of a pioneering Chicago surgeon named Hampar Kalikian and the people of Russell, who raised $1,800 to defray his medical expenses, Dole rebuilt his life as "Dr. K" rebuilt his shattered shoulder. Putting aside his own youthful dreams of becoming a doctor, by the fall of 1950 Dole had embarked on a new career path campaigning for a seat in the Kansas
Legislature.

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