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Dole Faces Painful Past, Hopeful Future Outside Chicago

March 17, 1996

RIVER GROVE, Ill. (AP) _ Touching on a critical piece of his past, Sen. Bob Dole reunited Sunday with the wife of the surgeon who operated on him seven times trying to restore his war-shattered body.

``My husband always said that he would be in the Senate and he wouldn’t be satisfied until he was in the White House,″ 74-year-old Ovsanna Kelikian said of Dole. ``I think that’s going to happen.″

Dole introduced Mrs. Kelikian at a rally in this ethnic suburb of Chicago, during which he recalled Dr. Harpar Kelikian’s work to rebuild his right shoulder and arm as best he could during a 39-month recovery period. At the time, Dr. Kelikian cautioned the young soldier, ``You’re not going to be like you were,″ and Dole’s right arm remains whither still.

``I spent 39 months learning how to feed myself and dress myself, doing things that people take for granted,″ Dole told the rally, speaking with fervor but showing no emotion. ``...I know about sacrifice.

``Everybody was looking for a miracle,″ he added in a reference to how close he came to death. ``And I found one in Dr. Kelikian.″

When the orthopedic surgeon died in 1983, the normally staid Dole wept on the Senate floor, reading Robert Frost’s lament, ``Nothing Gold Can Stay,″ in a tribute to the Armenian refugee who would not charge the young Army lieutenant for his services.

But the ceremony that brought together Dole and Mrs. Kelikian was anything but staid, filled with bright red-and-green garbed Ukrainian dancers, prancing Polish dancers and heart-thumping music with plenty of violins, accordions and applause from at least 400 celebrants.

``Tuesday is Bob Dole victory day!″ several shouted, referring to primaries this week in Illinois and three other Midwest states. ``Dole for President″ signs mixed with ``Italian-Polish Americans for Bob Dole.″

The reunion with the doctor’s wife and last week’s visit by Dole to a former Army hospital in Michigan where he convalesced seem aimed at humanizing the 72-year-old candidate, better known as a sharp-tongued lawmaker who has spent the past 35 years on Capitol Hill.

And the ethic rally was geared toward contrasting Dole with his only remaining GOP rival, Pat Buchanan, who has said he would like to ``build a wall around America″ to keep out immigrants and foreign trade. A banner behind him declared, ``It’s a small world. It’s a Dole world.″

``In the United States of America we are all one America,″ Dole said, pounding the podium to make his point.

But several people in the crowd, like Chicago’s Wlodzimierz Scharf, said they were disappointed Dole didn’t speak out against legislation pending in Congress that would reduce legal immigration as well as crack down on illegal immigrants.

``Many people say it divides American citizens into two parts, better and worse. The better, who are born here, and the worse who are naturalized,″ said Scharf.

Dole also took a shot at President Clinton, saying he is not the man to lead the nation. ``For the last three years we’ve had no leadership in the White House,″ he said. ``We’ve had vacillitating, waffling.

``...You can count on Bob Dole to lead,″ he added.

Dole began his day with church services at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, walking a block in a light snow to attend the house of worship known as the ``light in the city″ at the heart of a ritzy shopping district. A smiling Dole waved to cars at the intersection, but few people seemed to recognize the Senate majority leader without his ``Dole For President″ signs. He waved and gave the thumbs up gesture anyway.

During his three-day campaign swing through the Midwest ahead of Tuesday’s primaries, Dole has been more animated than usual as he basks in the glow of the party faithful at gatherings across the industrial heartland. Banners declare ``You’re Among Friends,″ a perfect audience for taking jabs at Clinton, his eventual target in the fall.

Later, at a gynmasium rally at the Benedictine College in Lisle, Ill., Dole continued his get-Clinton theme as a four-Tuba marching band riled the crowd of 400 and red, white and blue balloons fell from the air.

``I would hope that after three years of broker promises you would elect someone who would keep their word. And that’s Bob Dole right here,″ he said, adding later, ``The era big government isn’t over with Bill Clinton. It will be over on November, 5, 1996.″

Illinois Gov. Jim Engler, who has accompanied Dole around the state, said the Kansan ``is one of us.″

``It would be great to have a Midwesterner in the White House,″ he said.

Dole is expecting a strong sweep of Tuesday’s primaries in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin _ states where economic insecurity is high. With 219 delegates up for grabs, Dole could win enough to put him just under the 996 needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination.

While Dole was attending rallies and Lincoln Day lunches and dinners in Illinois on Sunday, his only remaining rival Pat Buchanan was participating in South Side Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield said Dole didn’t skip the parade in order to avoid Buchanan. ``I don’t even think we were invited,″ he said.

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