Bob Dole opens up about his final salute to President George H.W. Bush

The late President George H.W. Bush was honored in a number ways following his death, but it was Bob Dole's simple tribute to him that was arguably the most powerful.

Once fierce political rivals who later became close personal friends, the 95-year-old former Kansas senator was helped out of his wheelchair so he could offer a proper salute to Bush as he lay in state last month in the U.S. Capitol.

"I wanted to pay my respects, so I wanted to stand up and maybe bow my head," the one-time Republican presidential nominee told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview. "But I got on my feet — it's almost like my subconscious was moving my left arm. I didn't go there with the intent to salute, but I did."

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Bob Dole -- 1996 campaign and more
ME.Dole1.Liddy.102796.MBÂÂ(Anaheim)ÂRepublican presidential candidate Bob Dole waved with his wife Elizabeth to an enthusiastic crowd assembled in the parking lot of the Anaheim Pond Monday afternoon. Dole and Kemp were stumping for votes in the mostly conservative Orange County. (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 30: US Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole delivers his campaign speech at the Pontchartrain Center in New Orleans 30 October. New Orleans is the second stop of Dole's last campaign trip before the US general election, 05 November. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1053 -- Pictured: (l-r) Senator Bob Dole during an interview with host Jay Leno on December 16, 1996 -- (Photo by: Margaret Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 16: US President Bill Clinton (L) shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole 16 October at the start of the presidential debate at the University of San Diego. This is the last debate before the 05 November elections. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 17: Former US President Gerald Ford (L) introduces Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole (R) at a rally after the debate in San Diego, CA, 16 October. Dole was President Ford's running mate in the 1976 presidential election. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO J. David Ake (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
282077 04: (NO NEWSWEEK - NO USNEWS) President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole smile October 6, 1996 in Hartford, CT. During the 1996 televised Presidential Debate, incumbent President Bill Clinton and Kansas Senator Bob Dole further publicized their Democratic and Republican platforms to the American people. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Liaison)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 3: US Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole (L) and US Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., (R) wave to members of the American Legion at the group's annual convention in Salt Lake City, UT., 03 September. McCain introduced Dole. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
RUSSELL, KS - JULY 20: US Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole looks over a birthday cake baked for him by the citizens of Russell, KS., during a birthday party in Russell's Lincoln Park, 22 July. Dole celebrated his 73rd birthday in his hometown. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA - JULY 9: Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole holds up a campaign sign from his 1976 run for the US vice presidency with former President Gerald Ford after autographing the sign before departing from the Richmond, Virginia, airport 09 July. Dole stopped in Richmond to address the Virginia State Police. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 26: Republican presidential candidate US Senator Bob Dole (R) listens in the background to campaign policy advisor Dennis Shea (C) during a roundtable discussion on domestic violence, 30 May at Chicago's Antonin Dvorak School with Illinois Governor Jim Edgar (L). Senator Dole stopped in Chicago for a day of campaigning during a four day swing throuhg California, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - APRIL 13: Republican presidential candidate US Senator Bob Dole (R) and wife Elizabeth Dole (L) react to supporters cheers during a 'Dole for President' rally at Hy-Vee Foods corporate office in Des Moines, Iowa, 13 April. Senator Dole is wrapping up a campaign swing before returning to work in the Senate in Washington DC. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 15: Republican presidential candidate US Senator Bob Dole looks over the deli counter at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,15 April. Dole stopped at the store for a quick visit while campaigning through Pennsylvania before returning to Washington to resume his duties in the US Senate. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOT J. David Ake (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 16: Senate Majority Leader and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole shares a laugh with former President George Bush at Dole's office in Washington. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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Bush died Nov. 30, 2018 at age 94. He and Dole were contemporaries with a long rivalry that reached back to when Bush replaced Dole as chairman of the Republican National Committee in the Richard Nixon era.

Multiple bruising battles to become the Republican presidential nominee followed. Somehow, a deep bond emerged between the two.

"You know, George Bush and I were close friends. We also had some rather tough races against one another," Dole said. "But he was my friend and he did a great job as president. And so did his son."

Dole's wife, former Labor Secretary and North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, said she felt so much pride in her husband during that "beautiful" moment.

"I think it lifted people's spirits," she told TODAY.

The couple soon heard from people from around the world describing the salute as a powerful moment.

"It just kind of gave people a lift at a time when there's so much divisiveness," she said.

TODAY will air more of the interview with the Doles, including their 43-year marriage, in February.

 

 

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