Sixty years after the fact, the former senator and presidential candidate recounts the wartime incident that left him wounded for life—and that gave him “a ferocious determination to take the next step.”
At the outset of this nicely written memoir, Dole protests that the handle “the greatest generation” is not one that his generation claimed for itself. “Truth be told,” he says, “we were ordinary Americans fated to confront extraordinary tests. Every generation of young men and women who dare face the realities of war . . . is the greatest generation.” He warms up to the title in time, however, while recalling a poor childhood on the Kansas plains, made more complicated by the arrival of the Depression; by the time he arrived in Italy as a new lieutenant, he had already faced plenty of character-building tests. Dole, whom later parodists have portrayed as being thin-skinned, admits to being a little put off early on at not being embraced by the mountain troops under his command; but, considering the low life expectancy of field unit commanders, he reckons, “No wonder the forty or so men of the 2nd Platoon didn’t go out of their way to get to know me when I arrived. They figured I wouldn’t be around long.” They were right: while assaulting Hill 913 on the German line on April 14, 1945, Dole was severely wounded by a high-explosive shell fragment, with multiple injuries to his upper body. His account of the years-long process of recovery takes up much of his story, and Dole delivers it with grace and economy: he writes movingly, for instance, that he has viewed his full body in a mirror fewer than half a dozen times in 60 years (“I don’t need any more reminders”), and he offers, without a trace of mawkishness, a fine brief on what the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” means to him.
For all his reluctance to lay claim to hero or greatest-generation status, Dole deserves accolades. So, too, does his memoir.