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75th anniversary of V-E Day

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

Seventy-five years ago this week, General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent this official word to the joint leaders of British and American military in the wee hours of May 7, bringing American military engagement in Europe to an end after three and a half years.

General Eisenhower, along with brothers Bob and Kenny Dole, and more than 1,000 other Kansans who served – men and women – are memorialized on the WWII Memory Wall at the Dole Institute of Politics; our database online, built on ongoing submissions from the public, honors 4,500 more.

We are proud of this tribute to our WWII veterans. It is a defining feature of the institute and, in more certain times, a pilgrimage site for many families across the country, with special significance as we commemorate the 75thAnniversary of Victory in Europe Day today, May 8.

Over the course of three and a half years, a generation of Americans, Bob Dole just one among millions, dedicated their lives to a war effort they believed was essential to their very existence. That unity carried our country for the following 75 years into unprecedented prosperity for the largest number of people anywhere in the history of the world.

Unity is a hard thing to come by these days. In the face of an unprecedented pandemic, a global crisis with geographical reach farther than the Second World War, our country continues to be fractured by partisan politics.

The Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas was dedicated in July 2003, in a multi-day celebration of public service, military service, and the legacy of the Greatest Generation. Inspired by the leadership of Senator Bob Dole, we are a place – physically or virtually –  where people can gather to discuss our differences of policy and philosophy in a constructive and intellectually honest manner – with the aim of bringing Americans together to build a country that works for us all.

It’s a lofty goal certainly but one that has never been more urgent, a mission never more timely. Bipartisanship is a bad word when members of each party consider the other morally bankrupt – and few are willing to articulate our country’s challenges in terms of a shared project.

The coronavirus presents the same challenges to the Dole Institute as it does to every other business, non-profit, school, or museum. We’re here for the people-work – to educate, inspire, and connect folks of all ages, whether through programming or historical collections. And like all institutions, we’ll find a way to continue in a new, increasingly virtual, environment.

Working from home in recent weeks, I’ve had more opportunities to connect with my own two kids – a gift amidst all this uncertainty, and one that not everyone has. Last weekend, while playing in the yard, we discussed re-opening after the quarantine: what it means, who gets to open, why, and for what purpose. “What is the purpose of the Dole Institute?” my 9-year-old son asked. He’s named for my late grandfather, a volunteer Army Infantryman who fought to liberate Metz.

I decided to answer in terms of the future: “We need leaders and public servants who believe in our country, and for the greater good. We need people who will respect and listen to one another, who will solve problems together. Bob and Elizabeth Dole got really good at all this – and we want to be sure there are more people who know how to lead that way.” I thought to myself: Your future depends on it.

My son and my grandfather were born nearly a century apart. He died at 98 years old, a few weeks after meeting my baby daughter for the first time. Where will my kids be in another 100, long after Senator Bob Dole and the remaining 40,000 WWII veterans are gone? Which generation’s legacy will we be building on? And will it be a positive one?

My grandfather’s photo is one of those on the WWII Memory Wall at the Dole Institute. When I work at my office there – and I hope it’s again soon – I like to look up at him and say hello, and thanks for everything. That he came home alive is a miracle and a mystery only understood by something greater than all of us. That same mystery tells me that my job is to make our country a better place, and building future leadership at Dole Institute of Politics is my contribution.

75 years from V-E Day, in this presidential election year, let’s renew our resolve yet again to build a legacy today worthy of our WWII veterans and so many others who have suffered and sacrificed over the centuries of our imperfect republic.

The beauty – and the challenge – is that it’s up to us, and the leadership examples we choose to emulate.

Audrey Coleman
Associate Director  and Director of Museum and Archives

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