Bob Dole, Former Republican Senator and Past Presidential Candidate, Dies at 98

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Former US Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole dies at 98.
Former US Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole dies at 98.

Diana Walker/Getty

Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee and longtime leader of Senate Republicans, has died. He was 98.

On Sunday, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced his death in a statement shared on social media.

"It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep," the statement read. "At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years."

The statement added that "more information" would be released at a later time, alongside the hashtag, "#RememberingBobDole."

RELATED: Bob Dole Doesn't Believe Trump's Ongoing Lie that Election Was Stolen: 'Not One Bit of Fraud'

Earlier this year, Dole said that he had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. "I have some hurdles ahead," the politician said when he announced his diagnosis in February.

Known for his combination of feistiness and humor, as well as a deep devotion to his country, Dole ran for president against Bill Clinton and had also been the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1976.

"Some people think I'm just tough, no feelings," Dole told PEOPLE in 1993, when he was 70 and still fighting on the political battlefields of Washington. "I like people. [But] hugging is not my nature — kissing, holding babies."

"Besides," he said as he broke into his signature sly grin (as he referred to the shoulder maimed during World War II), "with only one hand, I'm always afraid I'll drop them."

Senator Bob Dole gives the "thumbs up" sign during a presidential rally. Senator Dole won the Republican nomination for president in 1996.
Senator Bob Dole gives the "thumbs up" sign during a presidential rally. Senator Dole won the Republican nomination for president in 1996.

Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty

Few rose so far or coped with so much. Dole grew up during the Depression in Russell, Kansas, then a town of about 2,500, where his father, Doran, ran a cream and egg station.

A top high school football athlete, Dole became the first in his family to attend college when, in 1941, he borrowed the $300 tuition for Kansas State University. The following year he enlisted in the Army, later becoming a second lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division, stationed in Italy's Po Valley.

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On April 14, 1945, just three weeks before the end of the war in Europe, and as Dole was leading his platoon through heavy shelling, he saw his radioman go down. He began crawling to his aid, but was barely out of the foxhole when he was struck by Nazi machine-gun fire.

"I thought maybe I'd lost my arms," he said. "I couldn't move my legs." Lying face down and paralyzed, "I can remember seeing my little white dog, Spitzy. It's all just a fog after that."

He was sent home to Kansas with his right shoulder blown off, his arm dangling, and paralyzed from the neck down by spinal-cord injuries. For three years and three months he was shipped around to veterans' hospitals, sometimes suffering seizures and fevers so high that "they'd pack me in ice like a fish and blow fans on me."

By the time Dole returned to Russell in 1946, he had lost more than 70 pounds. As he convalesced, "I kept wondering why did it happen to me? But then something has a way of taking over. You take another step, and you're able to raise your left arm or something. And you finally get a fork in your hand and then in your mouth. It just takes a lot of time."

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Though he was soon able to walk, his atrophied right arm remained lifeless, his forearm locked at a 90-degree angle. The condition was finally remedied when Chicago orthopedist Dr. Hampar Kelikian operated seven times, at no charge, straightening the limb so that it would hang freely at his side.

More important, Kelikian changed Dole's outlook on life. "He said, in effect, 'You've got to grow up,'" Dole recalled. When his wounds healed, Dole went back to school, earning his undergraduate and law degrees by 1952 from Washburn Municipal University in Topeka, Kansas.

RELATED VIDEO: Former Senator Bob Dole Pays His Respects to Former President George H.W. Bush

Although Dole said he had no political ambitions when he returned to Russell to practice law, local Republicans, attracted by his sterling war record, persuaded him to successfully run for the state legislature in 1950. Three years later he began an eight-year stint as county attorney, followed by four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and, finally, his election to the U.S. Senate in 1968.

Unfortunately, as Dole's political identity was taking shape, the demands of his job were leaving little time for his wife since 1948, the former Phyllis Holden, and their only child, Robin. The couple divorced in 1972.

RELATED: Bob & Elizabeth Dole Look Back at Their Decades-Long Love Story: How They Met and How He Wooed Her

That same year Dole met Elizabeth Hanford, at the time a 36-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer who would later hold Cabinet posts in the Reagan and Bush administrations. After those, she ran the American Red Cross from 1991 until 1999, and in 2003 became a Republican senator from North Carolina, only to lose her seat in the 2008 elections.

Married since 1975, Elizabeth and Robert had "a lot of the same interests," he informed PEOPLE. "(A) we like to work, (B) we like to work, and (C) we like to work."

Dole is now survived by Elizabeth and daughter Robin.