“I could hear them as if it were yesterday. I can hear the voices.”
Below is an excerpt from former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole’s June 6, 2000, testimony before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives about the effort to create a World War II Memorial, for the fundraising committee of which he was national chairman.
I accepted this challenge in March 1997 and someone said—as a matter of fact, I think it was Senator Bob Kerrey who said, “Why are you running around with a tin cup? Why don’t you come to Congress and we will appropriate the money?”
Well, our view was that we ought to raise it in the private sector, and we ought to leave the money up here for veterans’ needs. Present-day veterans who need help, and $100 million can help a lot of veterans.
Why would I agree to take on this responsibility? I think I said on that morning, those of us who served during World War II, we didn’t hear the call of history, we heard only the voices of friends, voices that sometimes could end in a moment in a place far, far from home, whether Europe, the Pacific or wherever you might be. I can hear them. I was in the 10th Mountain Division, and I never quite understand how I got in the 10th Mountain Division because I came from the plains of Kansas, but in those days if you were warm and walking you were a good prospect for second lieutenant, and I became a second lieutenant.
But I remember hearing some of the voices, and we had some of the great skiers of America at that time in the 10th Mountain Division; and when the war ended, these young men fanned out across the country and kind of organized the American ski industry and sort of made it take off. Many of them were wounded or killed in Italy. So I could hear them as if it were yesterday. I can hear the voices. And I think it is almost frozen in time, because 56 years ago was D-Day, of course, and we think of some of the days that we shared and some of the experiences that we shared.
But I have thought more about it, and I thought about it in this sense: We spend 55 years, 56 years; in another 55 years, there will be no one left who heard those voices, nobody came and talked about it. And we build this memorial to bear them witness and remind future generations that preserving freedom
and liberty sometimes calls for great sacrifice.
We throw the word “hero” around pretty easy in America, “this person is a hero” and “that person is a hero.” I think there is a distinction between heroes and celebrities. I think some of the great sports stars are great, but they are not heroes in my view; they are celebrities, and they deserve a lot of praise and whatever.
But the heroes, as people on this committee know, are young men and women, or men and women of any age, who risked their lives—maybe in the District of Columbia, maybe in Kansas, maybe in uniform to save another life—and as a result of it, they may lose their life or spend their life with a lifetime of disability. And these are the heroes.