April 12th, 2011
01:58 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) -There was a terrible rainstorm here on Tuesday morning, but NBC News anchorman and special correspondent Tom Brokaw said he woke up knowing there was just no way that an event on the National Mall honoring a certain World War II veteran would be cancelled.
"Don't worry about it, God wouldn't dare rain on Bob Dole's parade," Brokaw quipped at the beginning of a ceremony honoring the former Republican Senator and presidential nominee's efforts to create the National World War II Memorial.
With the help of a tent to block the rain, Vice President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar - along with several of Dole's other former Senate colleagues - helped unveil a plaque that will now be featured at the memorial to note the 87-year-old's tireless efforts to get it built.
Biden gave an emotional speech that included an anecdote about going to the beaches of Normandy in France with Dole on the anniversary of D-Day and coming upon a veteran in a wheelchair who refused to accept thanks from Biden, instead insisting it was his wife Mary who deserved credit for helping with the war effort back home while he served overseas.
At a White House ceremony honoring military families less than an hour after the Dole event finished, Biden mentioned Dole's "unparalleled devotion" to the nation's military veterans.
"He always knew and taught me what many of us have come to know - that we have many obligations in this country but we only have one truly sacred obligation and that is to prepare those who we send to war with all that they need and take care of those who return from war and their families with all they deserve," Biden said.
Dole, who was gravely wounded on a battlefield in Italy 66 years ago this week, was gracious as usual by declaring he was accepting the honor "for all veterans," noting the 16 million who served in World War II.
The former Senator also displayed his well-known sense of humor when briefly referring to one of his many doomed presidential bids. "I once described myself - this was in 1996 I should have forgotten it - as the most optimistic man in America. And you have to be with what I've been through," he said, before adding: "I'm still the most optimistic man in America."
Brokaw, author of the famed book "The Greatest Generation," served as emcee of the event and may have offered the most revealing anecdote of all about Dole's character.
The newsman recalled that when Dole was traveling the nation raising funds for the National World War II Memorial several years ago, he visited an Hollywood mogul who was expected to turn over a large check to the effort but instead told the former Senator that he had "other priorities" for his wealth at the time.
"Bob said to him, 'When I was 22, I had other priorities too,'" Brokaw recalled.
But, Dole added icily to the unnamed mogul, instead "I went to war."
Sacrifice was definitely the theme of the event, especially when Dole's longtime friend and colleague, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), went to the podium.
Noting that Dole "nearly lost his arm but kept on fighting" on April 14, 1945, Inouye added starkly that it was only one week later that "I got my bullet" on a battlefield in Italy less than a mile away from where Dole was hit.
Even more astonishing was that Dole, Inouye and a man named Phil Hart all wound up at the same veterans hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, without knowing all three would one day wind up serving together in the United States Senate.
Inouye recalled Dole very plainly laying out in the hospital how he would recover from his wounds, return to Kansas and run for local office before jumping at the first Congressional seat that opened up.
"So I said, 'You know, that's a good idea, I'll try the same," Inouye said to laughter.
When Hawaii became a state and Inouye was quickly elected to Congress, he recalled arriving in Washington and firing off a note to Dole: "Bob, I'm here. Where are you?"
Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who hails from Dole's home state of Kansas, spoke and rattled off a long list of bipartisan achievements from Dole's days in the chamber. Noting that today's leaders need to "face up to the problems" confronting the nation, Roberts said to Dole, "You've show it can be done."
That prompted Brokaw to get in a dig at a couple of cable TV hosts, including one within the NBC News family, as he marveled at Dole's ability to reach across the aisle.
"Somehow he did that without the help of Rachel Maddow or Bill O'Reilly," quipped Brokaw.