In his recent book, American Heroes in Special Operations, retired Col. Oliver North is shining the light on the country’s most unsung heroes: the service members who populate the U.S. Special Operations Command.
“The American people need to know a little bit more about the young Americans we’ve got out there defending them,” North told The Daily Caller. “I’ve got this belief that a country without heroes doesn’t have a future.”
After numerous trips overseas covering American and allied troops fighting radical Islamist terrorists, North has compiled a series of profiles and vignettes from the heroic efforts and experiences of Special Operations troops on the ground — a companion to his New York Times best seller American Heroes: In the Fight Against Radical Islam.
North explains that it is a special type of person that decides to join Special Ops — with the grueling training and inordinate danger, the job is reserved for America’s most exceptional.
“All of these are folks that have an extraordinary tale to tell and, very often, cannot get a chance to tell it,” North said. “In so many cases, you’ve got these operations that are classified that nobody ever hears about.”
Hoping to get the word out, North has spent years, not only as a Marine in his own right, but also as a reporter, documenting the great heroism of America’s defenders. In order to write and publish “American Heroes in Special Operations,” North said that he had to get permission from the proper authorities, and adhere to two conditions. One, that he not show the faces of those who should not be exposed and, two, that he not detail tactics, techniques, procedures etc. that could be helpful to the enemy.
According to North, one of the more disappointing challenges facing service members today is the fact that so few of the Americans they are protecting are actually intimately aware of their sacrifice.
“So few people in our country [even] know the names of those who serve. In World War II, at a time when 16-and-a-half million men and women were in uniform, everybody knew the name of somebody serving. Today, less than 2 percent of the American people know the name of anybody serving,” he said. “And it’s because, first of all, the population of the country back when my dad was in was…what, 179 million and today it’s over 300 million. Back then, it was 16-and-a-half million men and women in uniform, today it’s less than a million and a half.”
In a country where so few know the names of their protectors, North says that the average American would be surprised at the intellect and courage of the members of the military, specifically those from special operations.
“[They would be surprised by] how bright they are. How well-educated they are. How brave they are. The kinds of things that they never hear about. And, quite frankly, the astounding abilities of these young Americans to accomplish these kinds of things. Everybody’s seen the Rambo movies, but this isn’t Rambo. This is real,” he said.
Facing such grave dangers on a regular basis, the Americans in Special Ops are an extremely religious group, North said.
“I’ve never seen so many young Americans so willing so profess their faith – so overt and straightforward about it. When you look at the pictures of these guys gathered in a prayer circle, getting ready to go on a mission, that wasn’t called by some regimental commander or even a chaplain,” he said. “And they’re not going out on a football field; they’re going out into mortal combat. And they all know guys who’ve lost their lives – given their lives – or have been terribly, grievously wounded. And a lot of the stories are in there. And they know what they’re getting into.”
North believes that acclimating themselves to normal life after their service is done is another of the big challenges facing America’s heroes, and that the high unemployment rate for veterans who have returned from the field of battle is an indication of that struggle.
“What has to happen is that the Veterans’ Administration needs to understand they need some real experts in helping these young Americans come back and be part of the rest of our society,” North said. “And the rest of our society needs to wake up to the fact that even though the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, the unemployment rate for the veterans coming back from this war is almost double that. And that’s not right.”
In the end, North is out to ensure that Americans know the sacrifice of the heroes defending their freedom. He hopes that his book will be one more step in that direction.
“This is their story and, if the American people read it, they’ll know who they are and it’s what all those great pictures [and stories] are all about,” he said.