NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–After a terrible firefight in Iraq several months ago, Lt. Col. Oliver North walked upon a young Marine lance corporal laying in the dirt, holding his dying squad leader in his arms. As a war correspondent for Fox News, North turned off his camera as he approached the young man, who had tears running down his face.
“He’s dying, isn’t he, sir?” the young Marine looked up and asked the veteran Marine colonel who served on President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff.
“Yes, son, he is,” North replied.
“You know, sir, heroes aren’t just made by how they die. They’re defined by how they lived,” the young man said.
Speaking at the Sept. 26 chapel service for LifeWay Christian Resources employees in Nashville, Tenn., North said the young Marine’s statement was profound.
“That’s wisdom by a 19-and-a-half-year-old that lots of folks in our culture today … don’t understand,” North said. “It’s an extraordinary truth uttered from the mouth of a grievously saddened young man.”
North said one of the blessings of his life is that he has always gotten to hang around heroes. Most recently, he said, he “had the great privilege of going out and covering those youngsters out there who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom” for Fox News.
“I lived with them, ate the same dust with them and spent from the time they prepared in Kuwait all the way through the victory [in April] when they seized Baghdad and in the weeks beyond that with those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” he said.
North told the LifeWay employees that he wanted to give them a word picture of who those youngsters really are because he’s not sure it comes across in the three-minute snippets broadcast by hazy satellite signals. He also said only 2 percent of Americans actually know the name of someone serving in the military today.
“A lot of them are going to start coming home, and I think it’s important that you know who they are,” he said.
North said the average soldier today is 19-and-a-half years old. If he were in the United States now, he’d be wearing Nikes and cutoffs, but because he’s in Iraq he’s wearing a flak jacket and a helmet. The jacket weighs 20 pounds, the helmet weighs three, and the soldier puts a 50-pound pack on his back and walks around all day in 112-degree heat, North said.
“And he doesn’t complain about it,” he said.
“This is a youngster who has literally been better prepared than any we’ve ever sent into combat before. He’s a high school graduate, which makes him the brightest, most educated soldier, sailor, airman or Marine we’ve ever had,” he continued. “When he joined the military he was taught chemistry, biology and physics, ballistics and all kinds of sciences that allow him to maintain and use the most sophisticated weapons ever invented.”
Before the soldier joined the military, his parents could not get him to pick up his room, wash the dishes or wash his clothes, North said.
“And yet today he is a remarkably self-sufficient human being. He washes and mends his own clothing, he looks after every item of his equipment,” North said. “He keeps his feet dry and his canteens full, and he does it all by himself. He digs his own foxhole and latrine. Nobody has to tell him to do it — he just does it because he has learned that he must do it himself or it isn’t going to get done.”
North explained that today’s soldier can use every single weapon in his unit and cleans his own weapon every day even though he himself has not bathed in three weeks for lack of water.
“He cleans his own weapon at least once a day and in the middle of the night can field strip it, clean it and put it back together again in less than two minutes. He’s that good,” North said. “He can use his weapon like part of his body and his body like a weapon. And he can take a life or save one with it because he knows that’s his job and he can do it better than anyone who has ever done it before.
“This is a youngster who, when he was back home, wouldn’t share a candy bar with his little brother and yet today he’ll give his last drop of water to a wounded comrade or his last MRE, his ration, to a hungry Iraqi kid and he’ll split his ammo with a mate in a firefight,” he said. “This is a youngster who by virtue of our culture has been told that grown men don’t cry. Yet I’ve seen him weep unashamedly, holding in his arms the body of a dying comrade.”
And today’s soldier more than likely has a Bible in his pack given by the Gideons or another organization and reads it unashamedly, North said.
“I’ve seen them talk to one another about what a particular passage would mean,” he said. “[I’ve seen] a Bible study in the back of a CH46 helicopter that’s just carried 18 wounded to a battlefield resting station to help save their lives while the corpsmen are washing the blood off the floor with five gallon cans full of water and Clorox. And there’s a crew chief, having now checked the bird for bullet holes, sitting down and reading this Word.”
North noted that no military force in history has ever gone so far, so fast with so few casualties as did the American military in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“They are remarkable people and a great credit to this country,” he said. “You should be very proud of them.”
The adversary in the war on terrorism stands in stark contrast to the American soldier, North said.
“[T]hey are taking out an adversary who at this very minute is being taught to hate and to kill and to kill themselves, trying to kill you and me and any Christian and any Jew they can find.”
But most members of the media fail to understand what’s really going on, North said. They tend to believe fundamental Islam is essentially the same as fundamental Christianity, but they are wrong, he said.
“[T]he difference [in Christianity] is that all the dying was done 2,000 years ago,” he said. “It’s not about how you die but about how you live, and [believers in the military] understand that.”
North read from a passage he wrote to be included in the Marine version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible Military New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs.
“Being well-trained and well-prepared gives us confidence in harm’s way and allows us to appear fearless in the face of the enemy,” North said. “We drill and practice so rigorously in peacetime as to be ready for the duress and the hardship of war. We emphasize the need for clear and concise orders so that in the heat of battle everyone knows what to do, where to go and how to get there and on whom they can count for help. The very best Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen that I have known could not only put those principles to work on the battlefield, they have done it with the rest of their lives. They know where they are going, they know why they are going there, and they have no fear of getting lost.
“Some will hear those words and think I’m referring to being able to navigate with a map and compass or GPS,” he continued. “That’s not what I’m talking about. The best Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen that I’ve known not only mastered the skills of their military profession, but they’ve also turned to the words of this Book to figure out where they are going, why they are going there and on Whom they can count for help.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: DEFINITION OF HERO and NORTH PRESENTATION.