In Oliver North’s eyes, the amount of heroes serving in the U.S. military never runs short.
The retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, who earned Silver and Bronze stars and two Purple Heart medals, and served on the National Security Council staff in the 1980s, cannot express enough praise for his respect for the men and women who defend, and have defended, this country.
That’s why all proceeds from North’s new book, “American Heroes: On the Homefront – The Hearts of Heroes,” co-written with Bob Hamer and released Nov. 5 by Threshold Editions, will go to Freedom Alliance, a foundation North founded that funds college scholarships to children of U.S. military personnel killed in the line of duty.
North will sign copies of the book at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Costco, near U.S. 17 Bypass and U.S. 501in Myrtle Beach.
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Calling at 10 a.m. Friday for this conversation, North didn’t sound anything like he already had completed four other interviews that morning. The happy, 70-year-old husband of 45 years, father of four and grandfather of 14 also said he understands and appreciates even more what families cope with during deployments of their kinship.
Question | With release of “American Heroes: On the Homefront” right before Veterans Day, what common characteristic among veterans, if any, has changed, going back as far as your father’s time in World War II and in your own time in combat in Vietnam, and talking with the warriors on the front line of the war on terror today?
Answer | My dad was part of the “greatest generation,” as Tom Brokaw says, when there were 60.5 million Americans in uniform. Every American over the age of 10 during World War II knew somebody who was serving in the military. ...
I wouldn’t trade in the guys I served with in combat for a billion dollars. My crew’s corpsman who saved my life on the battlefield ... is in the front of this book. Today he is a doctor, and he is saving the lives of others. ...My radio operator is ... a maxillofacial surgeon. ... I just saw six members of my rifle patrol, and all of them are successful men and family men. ...
But across the board, this generation today is bigger, brighter and better educated than any military force in history, not just in the United States, but globally. Yet when they come back home, whether they’ve been wounded or not, they cannot find work. ... If you want an employee who knows his or her responsibilities, has accountability, has been responsible for the lives and safety of others ... integrity and that get-up-and-go, these are the people to pick.
Q. | What else makes this book a reflection of that bond service members have?
A. | This book is part war story and part love story. ... When you’re out there in combat, you’re focused 24/7 ... on keeping you and your guys alive. It’s enormously draining, time consuming, completely committed, and with no time for distractions, but time becomes a distraction ... with your wife, your mate, your kids, and having them in the back of your mind, and God forbid if a chaplain and two officers knocks at the door of your home with the worst news you could ever get in your life. ...
That aspect of that that takes place in the book is a very powerful part of it. ... This book really is the rest of the story, the whole story of why we came into the service, what happened to us, and how it is that we’re pressing on. ...
Whether it’s Vietnam guys, or these youngsters fighting this war on terror, they’re not looking for sympathy, a handout or pity. They want to show you they can do it. ...
To deal with post-traumatic stress – I say PTS without the D – it doesn’t have to be a disability. How you treat that is like treating a broken finger. If that finger was treated right, it wouldn’t be crooked. ... I also believe in dog therapy. ... I love my Boykin spaniel, who gives me unconditional love. Dog therapy beats drug therapy.
Q. | Has Veterans Day taken on a higher, if not overdue, greater presence and public recognition in recent years? Will that continue as the Vietnam War-era generation gets older?
A. | Last week, I was down in Branson, Mo., where about 40,000 veterans came down, mostly Vietnam era. It was great.
Yet, on Nov. 11, it’s also National Mattress Sale Day. ... It tells you where the temperature of America us. We have Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and even if people were paying attention on those two days, there are 363 other days of the year to pay attention to this amazing group of men and women.
Q. | How has the role of the National Security Council staff changed in the three decades since you served in that department during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and especially since Sept. 11, 2001?
A. | It’s certainly become less operational since Ronald Reagan’s administration. ... We’re putting our allies in great jeopardy, and we’ve lost a lot of respect from our adversaries. ... This leadership has walked away from its leadership role. The ability to back up what you say – that was the very idea of Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength.” ... Every time we’ve let something go or let something slip through the cracks ... the rest of the world is paying attention ... and I fear you’ll end up with a nuclear Iran.
Q. | Speaking as a guest on Sean Hannity’s radio show last week, you spoke of the joy that pilgrimages to Israel bring you. How does each visit to the Holy Land fulfill something new or unknown for your mind and faith?
A. | I’ve been there many, many times ... and I watch the reaction of people to visit the places we’ve studied, read and heard about. It’s not just a visit to the Holy Land; it’s also a visit to some places that others don’t get to see, through my relationships built there.
On our last trip, all of us got to walk up or sit in the cockpit of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet, and just hours before, it was on a missile raid.
Q. | With all your documentary work through the years on Fox News Channel and going around the world, how easy is shifting gears to be the interviewee when you release each new book or preview a TV special?
A. | It comes very easily to me, because I’ve spent my whole life around the military, starting with my father’s service. ... It just comes very naturally. One of the things about the military is that guys will ask where you’re from, how did you join ... . It’s very similar and still the same today. The fun part is now I’m old enough that the very young guys might know me only from my TV shows. ... I enjoy what I do.
Q. | Since you played that avuncular figure Lt. J.G. Meg Austin (Tracey Needham) a couple of times on that first season of “JAG” in 1995-96, did that drama series keep you glued as a fan for all 10 years?
A. | Actually, the creator of that show, Don Bellisario, is a friend. ... I had a lot of fun doing it. “JAG” originally was on NBC ... then when it was moved to CBS, it instantly became a blockbuster series. You wouldn’t have thought that NBC would shoot “JAG” in the head.