Before Bob Dole bonded with John McCain as a fellow Republican congressman and war casualty, the longtime senator from Kansas wore a prisoner of war bracelet engraved with his hero’s name.
Dole reflected on their relationship Wednesday and the moment years ago when he revealed his POW memorial to McCain. The Arizona senator, who nominated Dole for president in 1996, died Saturday of brain cancer.
“He was a good, close friend and my hero,” Dole said. “We had a special bond.”
As a soldier in World War II, Dole received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service. He represented Kansas in the House from 1961-1969, then spent the next 27 years in the Senate.
During the 1970s, Dole -- who had met McCain’s father -- became one of the millions of Americans who wore a metal bracelet with the name of a serviceman who was captured or missing during the Vietnam War.
“I just thought John McCain was an exceptional man, and so I chose his name,” Dole said. “It wasn’t very complicated at the time. You just slip on the bracelet and wear it for as long as you want.”
He wore it regularly. Dole said he took it off for showers, but otherwise, it became “part of my body.”
At age 95, Dole said his memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Sometime in the early 1980s, after getting to know McCain, he took him to a corner of the Senate floor and showed him his wrist.
“It was pretty emotional for him because I had worn it all this time,” Dole said.
The New York Times wrote about the incident in a 1996 profile of their relationship.
“I had never known that,” McCain said. “I was very moved.”
McCain, the son of a decorated Navy admiral, was shot down on a bombing mission in October 1967 and remained a prisoner until 1973. He was elected to the House in 1983, and Dole said they ran into each other when McCain would visit the office of Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz.
In 1987, McCain replaced Goldwater in the Senate. At the same time, Dole became the Senate Minority Leader. When he launched a bid to unseat President Bill Clinton a decade later, McCain championed his friend’s campaign.
“He nominated me for president, and I failed him,” Dole said. “So then he decided to run.”
McCain sought the Republican nomination for president in 2000 and won the nomination in 2008. Along the way, he became one of the most respected members of Congress.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., delivered a speech this week on the Senate floor in which he recalled meeting McCain through Dole in 1996.
“I respect and honor Sen. Dole,” Moran said, “and I saw that day the respect and honor he had for a fellow senator, a fellow serviceman, a fellow veteran.”
Moran said when he arrived at the Senate in 2011, he was intimidated by McCain and his “vitriolic” nature.
“And in my early days as a new United States senator,” Moran said, “I didn’t seek the companionship of John McCain. That was a mistake on my part because despite his prickly nature, knowing John McCain became one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in the Senate.”
Private and public services were held for McCain on Wednesday at the Arizona Capitol, where hundreds of people waited for hours to pay their respects. He will lie in state Friday in Washington, D.C., before being buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.