Bob Dole reflects on meaning of Veterans Day

(CNN) - Former Senate Republican Leader and Presidential Candidate Bob Dole is opening up about what Veterans Day means to him.

The day honoring men and women who served in the military is Monday.

This weekend, he was at the World War II Monument greeting veterans arriving from the Honor Flights, which bring the greatest generation from around the country to see their monument.

The monument opened nine years ago when most of them were already in their 80s. This was the last honor flight of the season.

Dole was in charge of raising the private funds and getting the World War II monument built. It is a place that captures time.

"To talk to these men, some over 100 and still going strong and still proud of their service. Whatever they did, whether they were in combat or some place in the rear, they did what they were asked to do," Dole said.

Vets are Dole's mission now and it is a cross-generational effort.

Always a visitor to Walter Reed Hospital, in recent years, he spent a lot of time as a patient, rehabbing, talking, and getting to know the country's newest veterans.

It took him back to 1945 on a hill in Italy where he nearly died, and was permanently disabled by German machine gun fire.

He remembers his years in the hospital. His long journey home then makes him worry about them now.

"When they're there and they're surrounded by people who are caring for them, the nurses, technicians, doctors, I've often wondered if they'd realized what happens when they roll out in their wheel chair and go home; if they understand in some cases this is what --- this is forever," Dole said.

"And it's a shock when you're 19, 20, 21. I remember when I came home, we were all sort of heroes, and more in World War II than now. But I didn't have a job, and I wasn't able to take a job until this political thing came along," Dole said.

When asked what he tells young vets that kept him preserving despite depression and

doubt, he answered, "If you think you've got a problem, then just look around. I mean I used to go to PT at Walter Reed, and some of the case with, I mean I can't describe the condition these young men and women, in some cases, were in."

At 90, Dole remains a believer in the soul of America. He says he doesn't know how much longer he'll be around, but he thinks veterans are in good hands.

"The great majority of Americans will drop everything to help a veteran. And that's what makes America great. We don't forget those who fought for us," Dole said.

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