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The Daily Tar Heel

Col. Oliver North is a decorated combat veteran of the U.S. Marines with more than 50 years of service devoted to the military. Since his time on the National Security Council during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, North has gone on to work as a Fox News contributor and New York Times best-selling author. His newest book, “American Heroes: On the Homefront,” chronicles firsthand accounts of American soldiers and their journeys from the battlefield to back home. North will be holding a signing for his book Thursday at Flyleaf Books.

North spoke with staff writer Robert McNeely about the inspiration for his book and the men and women he wrote about.

Daily Tar Heel: What makes a person a hero in your eyes?

Oliver North: The definition of a hero is not someone who catches the pass at an end zone or wears the spandex suit in the comic book, but rather a hero by definition is a person who puts him- or herself at risk for the benefit of others. That defines who a hero is, and it certainly defines those who I’ve covered in this war, those that I had the great privilege of serving with in Vietnam and my dad, who was a hero in World War II and Korea.

DTH: You’ve devoted over 50 years of your life to the U.S. military. In what ways has the military changed, and how do you view the armed services today?

ON: There’s no doubt it’s changed dramatically. Looking back at the pictures of me and my riflemen in Vietnam, I’m the second-tallest guy there and I was barely 6 feet. Today I’m the dwarf in the pictures with these guys. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in service today are bigger, more educated, better-armed and better-trained than any military force in history. What we have now is the finest military any nation has ever had, and they have more combat experience than any military in history.

DTH: What was your inspiration for the book, and why did you decide to write about these people?

ON: I had done a documentary for Fox News where I went to Iraq with a Marine battalion and got to film them. While I was overseas, some of them got hurt and killed, and there were letters sent to their families, and we were there to cover the whole thing. When I got back home, my wife said to me that “Before you made this documentary you never knew what it was like for those of us back home.” And she was right.

When you’re engaged as a Marine your focus is 110 percent on what’s going on on the ground. Meanwhile at home, your family is worried … with the thought in the back of their mind that a chaplain is going to come up to the front door. So she challenged me to tell the rest of that story.

DTH: Did you have any personal experiences that affected your writing of this book?

ON: I was signing books out in Oklahoma. A woman walked up to me and gave me a photograph to sign dated in last July. She said, “Make that out in the memory of Chad.” I asked if this was Chad, and she told me “Yes, he was my son.” She said he had been hit with an (improvised explosive device) during service which killed him instantly. Now, I don’t know about other people, but when somebody says something like that to me, and I look at the picture of someone who was here weeks ago, it’s like putting your heart through a saber.

DTH: How have the stories you’ve heard changed you as a person?

ON: It certainly made me more sensitive to my children and grandchildren. It’s made me more sensitive to the fact that this is the longest war America has ever fought and how the sacrifices demanded by that are literally unprecedented. The greatest generation was what my parents were, but this is the best and bravest of this generation. And again, it inspires me to be around them. To be in this company of heroes.

arts@dailytarheel.com

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