FILE PHOTO: Former Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R-KS) attends a welcome ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, September 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Former Republican senator Bob Dole has died at the age of 98, his family said in a statement Sunday.

“Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years,” said a statement from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. More information coming soon. #RememberingBobDole

— Elizabeth Dole Foundation (@DoleFoundation) December 5, 2021

Dole’s death comes after he announced in February that he had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

“While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” he said at the time.

Dole, a Kansas native, overcame life-threatening injuries during World War II and went on to become Republican leader in the Senate f0r nearly 11 years, as well as the 1996 Republican nominee for president. At 73, he was one of the oldest first-time presidential nominees. He retired from politics after losing the race to incumbent President Bill Clinton.

While Dole wanted to be a doctor in his younger years, he shifted away from that goal after he nearly died and was left permanently disabled in World War II when he was caught in a German machine gun attack in 1945 while trying to rescue an army radioman. Dole lost a kidney, shattered his right shoulder and sustained damage to his neck and spine that left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down as a result of the attack.

Dole’s left arm remained partially numb for the rest of his life and he never regained use of his right arm.

He earned two Purple Hearts and two awards of the Bronze Star and went on to become only the eighth senator to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

“I want to thank all those who’ve said such kind words about me,” Dole said when he received the Congressional Gold Medal, joking that “they’re probably not true, but they were nice.”

After the war, Dole won a seat for the Kansas state Legislature and received a law degree. He became county attorney for Russell County and later won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960. He went on to serve in the Senate from 1969 to 1996, including two stints as majority leader from 1985 to 1987 and from 1995 to 1996.

During his time in politics, Dole focused on advancing policy to aid the disadvantaged, including the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and measures to fight hunger and poverty.

“By all rights, he and I should have had a lousy relationship,” said former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, who was the Senate’s top Democrat when Dole was majority leader the second time, in a 2000 speech. “The fact that we did not was due to Bob Dole — to his civility, to his pragmatism, to his quick wit and self-effacing humor, and to his love of this country and to this United States Senate. His sense of fairness and decency is a standard for which everyone in public life should aim.”

On Sunday, numerous lawmakers and former officials shared tributes to Dole.

Former Vice President Mike Pence called Dole a “truly great man who lived in extraordinary life of service to America.”

“He will be deeply missed by all of us who had the privilege to know him,” Pence tweeted.

Republican Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas called the late senator an “American hero, a statesman of the highest order & one of the greatest legislators of all time.”

“Most importantly, he was forever a Kansan who always put service above self,” he said, adding that he holds the entire Dole family in his prayers.

Dole is survived by his wife, former Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, and daughter Robin Dole.

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