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George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole spoke at at the Bush Center at Texas A&M University

The two had a hard-fought GOP primary fight in 1988

CNN  — 

Former President George H.W. Bush and former Sen. Bob Dole – their lives linked through service in combat and as rivals for the presidency – shared another experience Wednesday: remembering the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Pearl Harbor Day changed President Bush’s life. It certainly changed my life, later. But that’s the price we pay for freedom,” said Dole, who was severely wounded while fighting in Italy during World War II. Bush joined the Navy after the attacks and his plane was shot down in 1944.

“We love our country. We want to keep our freedom,” Dole added.

The two members of the Greatest Generation commemorated the occasion at the Bush Center on the campus of Texas A&M University, where Dole was presented with the Bush library’s award for public service. Both men sat in wheelchairs as Dole made brief remarks during which he praised Bush’s leadership, including after their hard-fought GOP primary fight in 1988.

“Many people doubted I could serve the President since we had a rather rough campaign, but it wasn’t true – because of the man he was, not because of me,” Dole said. “I was proud to be his leader in the Senate because I liked what he stood for. He wanted to make America – well I won’t say great again – I think that somebody else already said that,” Dole quipped, drawing laughter from the audience.

With feelings still raw following the most recent presidential campaign, Dole offered a lesson from his own experience. “I think at that time you turned the page and said, ‘OK, I can either go backwards or forwards. I’d rather read a book by turning a page and going forward.’”

Dole singled out one achievement of Bush’s that demonstrated his leadership as President: his signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He called it his “proudest moment” working with Bush, saying it represented a “giant step forward” that “opened many doors for disabled Americans who had been in effect at the curb.”

“And thanks to President Bush all that changed,” Dole said. “This man has a heart.”

Dole also mixed in some of his trademark humor with his emotional testimonial, talking about his and Bush’s life after office. “He retired and, well, I’m in a law firm. I go to work every day. Well, I show up every day – don’t do anything. Kind of reminds me of serving in Congress.”

Dole’s remarks only last about five minutes, which he forecasted to the audience by saying, “I don’t get paid a lot for speaking so I’m not going to talk long.”