'American Heroes on the Homefront: The Hearts of Heroes' delves into the experiences of returning wounded warriors. ()
- Filed Under
Oliver North earned a Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” and two Purple Hearts. He served as counter-terrorism coordinator on the National Security Council staff under President Reagan from 1983 to 1986 before the Iran-Contra Scandal ended his government career.
Lt. Col. Oliver North, a retired combat-decorated Marine, recently finished his 57th embed with troops since 2001. North, 70, has observed many units fighting on the battlefield, and now he has written a book about what happens once they come home.
“American Heroes on the Homefront: The Hearts of Heroes,” tells the story of wounded war veterans transitioning back to life in the U.S. North said he wanted to write a story about the wounded that dealt not only with the physical aspects of their injuries, but the spiritual and emotional journeys that accompany such life-changing events.
The book includes the stories of troops from all branches of service who were wounded or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also shares the stories of injured veterans from the Vietnam era, which was when North started his career as an infantry officer with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines.
But North went beyond just the stories about the service members to include family members’ perspectives. He said he saw too many people get hurt or killed on the battlefield, and he has seen the toll it can take on those back home. Ultimately, it’s a story about love, he said.
Q. You’ve spent a lot of time on the ground with troops since 9/11. As a retired Marine officer, what strikes you as different about the current generation of service members?
A. First, I wouldn’t trade a billion dollars for the young Marines I was blessed to serve with in Vietnam. I stayed in the Marine Corps after Vietnam and watched the transition to what it is today. They’re bigger — I used to be the big guy in my rifle platoon, now I’m the dwarf. They’re brighter, better educated, they’re all volunteers. They’re better equipped and far more lethal. So a young lance corporal today has awesome responsibilities they didn’t used to have.
Q. What made you want to highlight not only the transition that troops are making from the battlefield back to the homefront, but the stories of their families as well?
A. We did a documentary on the work my corpsman from Vietnam, Jack Fowler, was doing to help troops with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. When that aired, my wife said, “You never really understood what we were going through, did you?” I had to admit, I didn’t. If you’re an officer or NCO responsible for the lives and safety of your men, you do miss your family, but it’s a short moment here or there, then something else is distracting you like incoming fire.
Q. As you gathered and told those stories then, what struck you most about that transition troops and their families make?
A. This is a love story. The idea of a lifelong commitment is often derided as no longer part of our culture, but it is with these folks. The sense of dedication and sacrifice — and not seeing it as sacrifice — is very powerful. I’m inspired by it. This is not easy for them, they did not expect this to happen. But making that transition from, “He left me with four limbs and all of his plumbing work and he came back to me blasted to pieces and I’m going to stick with him” is a very, very powerful message about love.
Q. What are the differences you see as you watch them transition back from these wars compared to your experience after Vietnam?
A. These guys have seen an incredible amount of action in not very pleasant places. More than my dad, who fought in World War II and Korea, or my brothers and I did during Vietnam. And when I got back we were ordered during the middle of the war not to wear our uniforms off base so we wouldn’t end up with a smashed windshield or some crazy person throwing blood on us. In Vietnam they blamed the outcome of the war on those who fought it. That hasn’t happened again, and I pray it doesn’t.
Q. After going through your own transition and now spending all this time with wounded warriors, what’s your advice for those who are struggling?
A. To a wounded person I say this: It is the responsibility of the government of the United States, whether it’s Veterans Affairs or the Defense Department, to make that person as whole as possible. And it is our responsibility in the private sector to find jobs and housing for them. The way we treat the veterans out of these wars is going to determine how we recruit for the next one.
Watch video of our interview with its author, Lt. Col. Oliver North (ret.), at www.airforcetimes.com/olivernorth.