Dole concludes announcement tour at his hometown CAMPAIGN 1996


RUSSELL, Kan. -- Concluding his presidential announcement tour, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole returned to his wind-swept Kansas hometown yesterday for an enthusiastic rally that remembered his darkest hours and anticipated much brighter days ahead.

Under cloudy skies, in a stiff wind that flapped the flags so loudly they sometimes drowned out speakers on the podium, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter presented Mr. Dole with a monument commemorating the wounds he suffered in Italy in the waning months of World War II -- 50 years earlier to the day.

Remembering the cigar box that residents used to raise funds for Mr. Dole's hospital bills during his long months of recovery after the war, the town also presented him with a new wooden cigar box -- filled with more than $7,000 in contributions for his presidential campaign.

That gesture caught the spirit of the day. For the thousands of friends and supporters who gathered at a VFW post here, and for Mr. Dole himself, the morning felt less like a memorial than a celebration.

Almost everyone in Russell appeared to have their eyes on the future. Polls show Mr. Dole leading his competitors for the 1996 GOP nomination -- and beating President Clinton.

"Nobody knows what will happen in the next 12 months," Mr. Dole told the crowd. "But . . . it feels different this time around . . . It just seems to me that it's out there."

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