How did Bob Dole injure his arm? Explaining why the WWII Army veteran used to clutch a pen in his right hand

Bob Dole passed away at the age of 98 (Image via Kansas City Star/Getty Images)
Bob Dole passed away at the age of 98 (Image via Kansas City Star/Getty Images)

American politician and WWII veteran Bob Dole passed away at the age of 98 on Sunday, 5 December 2021. The news of his demise was confirmed by his family in an official statement through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation:

"America has lost one of its heroes; our family has lost its rock. He embodied the integrity, humor, compassion and unbounded work ethic of the wide open plains of his youth. He was a powerful voice for pragmatic conservatism."

Earlier this year it was revealed that the former U.S. presidential candidate was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and would enter treatment. However, no immediate cause of his death has been mentioned so far.

Statement from the Dole Family on the passing of Senator Robert J. Dole. #RememberingBobDole

Bob Dole also had a long history of surviving battle wounds and suffering health issues. He was just 21 years old when he faced a life changing arm injury after being struck by the enemy in Italy during World War II.

The injury left his right arm permanently damaged with limited mobility and devoid of sense or feeling. It also left his right arm two inches shorter than the left due to consistent surgeries. Part of his left hand was also numbed due to the damage.

According to USA Today,Dole was often seen clutching a pen in his right hand in public to politely discourage people from shaking his hand and also as a therapeutic response to his injury.

At 93 years old, Bob Dole invited us to the KS State Fair w/him. At the end of the day, he said: “Let’s go see the soldiers.” We went to the @USArmy recruiting booth, where he shook hands w/every soldier & thanked them for their service.#RememberingBobDole

However, Bob Dole spent his life advocating for disabled individuals and played an instrumental role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to prevent disability-related discrimination at work, transportation and accommodation.

A look into Bob Dole’s health issues

Bob Dole suffered a critical arm injury during World War II (Image via Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)
Bob Dole suffered a critical arm injury during World War II (Image via Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

Bob Dole was one of the most influential figures in American politics. He battled a critical war injury and suffered multiple health issues but went on to represent Kansas for 27 years in the U.S. Senate.

He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1961 to 1969 and was the the Republican presidential candidate in the 1996 election. He was also the vice presidential nominee in the 1976 election.

Dole became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and was deployed to Italy in 1945 during World War II. During combat near the Apennine Mountains in Castel D’Aiano, Bologna, he was severely wounded by the enemy while trying to assist a fellow injured soldier.


A German shell reportedly struck him in the upper back and right arm, leaving his collarbone and spinal cord completely shattered. He remained collapsed on the battlefield for nine hours before medical teams evacuated him and transported him to a nearby hospital.

During an old interview, Bob Dole shared his experience from the most critical moment of his life:

"I lay face down in the dirt. I could not see or move my arms. I thought they were missing."

The Republican statesman was paralyzed from the neck down and had minimal chances of survival during his time at a military hospital in Kansas. He also suffered from a 109 degree fever, severe blood clots and a life-threatening infection.

Bob Dole was later treated with the then-experimental drug streptomycin after doses of penicillin remained ineffective. Following his initial treatment, he was shifted to the Percy Jones Army Medical Center in Battle Creek and spent more than two years in the hospital in a head-to-hip plaster.

The veteran also lost a kidney and lost mobility in his right arm and parts of his left arm. Speaking to The Topeka Capital-Journal, Bob Dole mentioned:

"For nearly a year, I couldn't feed myself. I had to learn to walk and dress myself all over again.”

He received two Purple Hearts for his injuries and a Bronze Star with "V" Device for valor when assisting a downed soldier. He was medically discharged from the army in 1947. Later in life, he underwent a prostate surgery.

Dole was also treated for an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2001 at the age of 77. He had a hip-replacement surgery in 2004 and had to consume blood thinners as part of his treatment. Unfortunately, he started bleeding inside his head a month after the surgery.

Join us in #RememberingBobDole by sharing a special story or a meaningful memory about Senator Bob Dole and his lasting legacy ➡️

After being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, his left arm was also subject to limited mobility. He was then hospitalized for an elevated heart rate in 2009 and had to undergo skin-graft surgery for sore legs that same year.

In 2010, he had pneumonia and underwent another knee surgery. He was released from the medical centre after 10 months experiencing three bouts of pneumonia during his time in the hospital. Over the years, he underwent several hospitalizations for fevers, low blood pressure and infections.

Bob Dole was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in February 2021 and ultimately passed away in his sleep on Sunday.

Edited by Siddharth Satish
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