Oliver North Discusses His Book, ‘War Stories II: Heroism in the Pacific’
Lt. Col. Oliver North was a recent guest on “Your Turn — Meeting Nonsense with Common Sense,” hosted by the Center’s Corporate Counsel Renee Giachino. In his most recent book, War Stories II: Heroism in the Pacific, Oliver North honors our Nation’s soldiers.
What follows are excerpts of the interview that aired on 1330 AM WEBY, Northwest Florida’s Talk Radio.
GIACHINO: My next guest is a combat-decorated Marine, best-selling author, founder of a small business, inventor with three U.S. patents, syndicated columnist, former host of the radio’s Common Sense and the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel. To read the entire list of medals and accomplishments would consume the entire interview time. Instead, let me welcome him to the show, Lt. Colonel Oliver North. Mr. North, thank you for joining us this afternoon. We greatly appreciate your time and all of your efforts on behalf of
NORTH: I am glad I could be with you.
GIACHINO: I just finished reading your most recent book, War Stories II: Heroism in the Pacific, an amazing compilation of stories about the war and more importantly, as you describe the book, about the warriors who served in the Pacific Theater. What was your inspiration for writing the book?
NORTH: Well, just meeting these 58 guys and getting to sit down with them because, of course, we are losing them at the rate of 1200 a day. In fact, of those 58 I interviewed for the book, 9 of those are already no longer with us. It is a remarkable thing to get to meet these guys who are part of what my friend Tom Brokaw calls the “Greatest Generation,” to see the kinds of things that they endured — the fact that 16.5 million of them would volunteer to serve for the service of our country and go off and not just spend months but also years away from home and their loved ones and literally save this country from what was intended by our adversaries to be a much different time than we have today before us.
GIACHINO: One of the things that I enjoyed reading was in the back of the book where you give a little profile of each of the veterans with whom you spoke, and you do mention that several of them have passed away and so in many respects this book is a tribute to them. You also mention that some had never really shared their stories before — even to family and friends. These men all seem so humble, and yet so many became leaders in our communities and corporations. What lessons did you learn from these men and what lessons can we teach our children?
NORTH: Unfortunately, if you went to a high school history book you would find that there might be four paragraphs about the Pacific War — there might be one about Pearl Harbor and how America basically forced the Japanese to bomb us, and the last paragraph will be some kind of an apology for dropping the bomb that ended the war. And, in between, there will be something about some unnamed places where a lot of American casualties happened. Somehow it sounds a little bit like a meaningless waste of lives.
In fact, the adversary we were up against in the Pacific was very much like the adversary we face today in the Jihads — the goal is the same, simply to drive Westerners out of their part of the world. They wanted nothing to do with Western values or institutions like democracy. The kinds of fanatical, suicidal bent that they had with the kamikazes and the bonzai attacks are identical to what we see with suicide attacks today in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere in the Middle East.
The kind of brutality that they demonstrated toward not only Americans but other Westerners like the British and the Dutch and Australians that they captured, but also toward their “liberated people” who did not have quite the same appreciation for the liberation by the Japanese.
This is exactly the same thing that we are facing today. There are photographs and movies that were made back in the late 30s and 40s that show the Japanese proudly standing in the midst of committing an atrocity — just an absolutely horrific war crime and doing it in front of the cameras. Exactly the same kinds of things that we are seeing today in the slaughterhouses of Fallujah. The kind of stuff that Al-Jazeera puts up on the television.
So I look at it, Renee, as this is an instructive lesson for people today as to the kinds of brutality that we are up against. We did not face that same kind of brutality in Europe; we did not see the same kind of fanaticism in Europe. In the European war that my dad fought, whole German armies surrendered. There was not a single Japanese unit that surrendered in World War II until the end of the war, the 2nd of September when the Armistice was signed on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
GIACHINO: That is amazing and you have chronicled that so well in the book War Stories II. Mr. North, is it okay if I take a call?
NORTH: Do it, by all means.
CALLER: Thank you. Colonel, I am a World War II buff in the Pacific. I have a dear friend of mine who is in his 80s and he was in the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and he was on the radar picket line for over 70 days. Do you know what I am talking about?
NORTH: He must have been on a destroyer.
CALLER: Yes, he was on an LCS — landing craft support, right?
NORTH: Yes. LCSs, LCIs, DEs and DDs were the ones who provided the pickets out there.
CALLER: Right. Why don’t you have a program on that?
NORTH: Guess what! It’s almost like you did a promo for me. I have, coming up in March — I will be back in
CALLER: Okay. Have you heard of the place called Kerama Retto?
CALLER: Do you have anything on that? It was really a graveyard of ships. What he was talking to me about, it was really interesting about how they towed the ships on the Radar Picket Line coming in there and being patched up and being sent right back out again. Do you cover that at all?
NORTH: They sent them right back out on the line. I don’t cover that specifically.
CALLER: But you know what it’s about?
NORTH: Oh yes.
CALLER: That would be interesting to see that.
NORTH: Well, I have to share with you some of my frustration with this is that I can only do 18 shows, and I get so many great ideas from people who call me or email us to the show or write us letters or send us things. And of course there is so much of World War II that is documented that we never have seen.
By the way, you mention Iwo Jima. This weekend is the 60th anniversary of the assault on Iwo Jima. In fact, I will be in Fredericksburg, Texas, this weekend for that commemoration. Of course, Fredericksburg, Texas, is the home of Chester Nimitz, who was architect of the Central Pacific drive. MacArthur was in the South Pacific, and Chester was in the Central Pacific and the architect of those entire island hopping campaigns that were done from 1942 onward.
CALLER: Yes, sir. One other thing. Are you aware that there is a kamikaze survivors’ association?
NORTH: Oh, yes, in fact there are over 400 of them still alive.
CALLER: Okay, I just wanted to know because I really am interested in the radar picket line because of my friend who was there.
NORTH: You will really love the show “Tin Can Sailors” of World War II. It airs on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Eastern.
GIACHINO: I really want to encourage the listeners to pick up the book War Stories II: Heroism in the Pacific. I think it tells the story, as Mr. North indicated, from warriors themselves. It gives a great perspective. Obviously this caller is extremely knowledgeable about World War II, and I think you would enjoy reading about it from their perspective.
NORTH: And seeing the DVD that is in there too. Fox did a great job of putting together the DVD that is in the back of the book. It comes free and you don’t have to pay for it extra. In the words of the eyewitness participants, it tells the story of what these guys went through in World War II.
CALLER: Have you got anybody from the U.S.S. Wren?
NORTH: Not yet. Please just click on the Fox fans website and email me and I will get it. Or send me a letter at Fox News.
CALLER: Okay, I will. Thank you so much.
NORTH: My pleasure. You know the caller mentioned the kamikazes and the fact is that in 1944, when the first organized kamikaze attack occurs on the U.S.S. St. Lowe, Admiral Sprague who saw it happen sends back a message. Because we are raised in a Judea-Christian environment we don’t comprehend people who want to die, not just willing to die, but want to die. I have served with guys who were willing to die for their comrades, but didn’t want to. But the first four kamikazes slam into the St. Lowe and send it into the bottom in minutes, still 700 sailors, and it was horrific. Sprague sends back a message to Nimitz in Hawaii saying: "The strangest darn thing, four planes hit by our anti-aircraft weapons just happened to hit the U.S.S. St. Lowe.” And of course he reports that it was sent to the bottom.
And we’d been watching bonsai attacks occurring since August of 1942 on the island of Guadalcanal and then many of the other islands. In many cases the Japanese were assaulting into the marine position. For example, on Guadalcanal at Lunga Beach, when 500 of them come running down the beach only 200 of them have rifles and the rest are carrying swords and bayonets and very few of them actually fire. Their plan was that they wanted to die. And that is what we are up against today in the battle against terrorism.
GIACHINO: You mentioned that you are headed back to
NORTH: The kids that we — and forgive me for calling them kids but, at 61, I think I can call them that — the youngsters that we have serving in today’s military, be they soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines or guardsmen, are the brightest best educated, best trained, best equipped, best led that any nation in the world has ever seen. There has never been a military force this bright. I would not trade you a billion dollars for the kids I led to combat in
In this war, a significantly higher number of per capita participants have actually engaged the enemy. In past wars, it actually came down at the end of the day when you did all the surveys and all the studies that they do at the end of most wars — it comes down to about 4 or 5 percent who actually will have pulled a trigger or fired at or been fired at by an enemy. In this war it is going to be running at about 35 percent.
And so, the youngsters you have today, even though there are far fewer of them — in World War II 16.5 million men and women in uniform, today roughly a million in uniform in spite of the fact that the country is almost twice as large a population as we had in World War II. So it is a far smaller proportion of American society that even knows the name of a soldier. In World War II, the book you have in front of you, it was said and it is probably true, that there was not a single American who did not know the name of somebody serving in uniform. When you think about it, with 16.5 million with a population of less than 200 million, it doesn’t seem possible. Today, only 2 percent of the people know the name of someone serving in uniform. That means 2 percent of your listeners can actually conjure up the image of someone wearing the uniform of the military of the
And that is a big change. And so when they come back home, World War II heroes were welcomed back to American society. Jobs were plentiful and if you were a veteran you got preference. Today, the veterans come back from the war and very often have a difficult time finding a job because you have all these psychobabbles on television and radio saying these guys are pretty twisted. And a lot of that goes back to the heart of the Vietnam War and the people who today are running American media, and teaching in college and teaching in high schools — that were the draft dodgers of my war. And so there is an antipathy out there that did not exist during World War II.
When I was growing up every single one of my male teachers, every one of them, was either a veteran of World War II or
GIACHINO: I think that is what makes War Stories II our patriotic duty — we need to read it and appreciate what these warriors have done for us and what they continue to do for us.
Mr. North, the phone lines are lit up, if I may please take some more calls?
NORTH: Let’s do it.
CALLER: Colonel, what a great honor it is to speak to you. I have been an admirer of you since I first saw you in the battle of Capitol Hill, I might say.
NORTH: Yeah, but they were firing blanks.
CALLER: I greatly admired how you handled yourself with those very dangerous Democrats. I assume that in
NORTH: Oh gosh, well, I was there from 1968 to 1969 and then went back in 1970 but only for 16 days. So I got there in November of 1968 and came home in December of 1969. I was in a rifle platoon for very short periods of time and at times a company commander. I was in K Company, Third Marine Regiment the whole tour and most of it spent up along the DMZ between Cason in the West and Kantian in the East. For a very short period of time I was outside of Hon Rai to the South where they picked up our entire battalion and brought us down there for an operation — if I recall correctly in February of 1969.
CALLER: Do you have a book on your experiences in
NORTH: Yes, my first book Under Fire includes a good bit of that. There are several other books that others have written about me over there. One of them by my publisher Regnery called Blues Bastards — if we can say that word on the radio — but it is the title of the book and that is what my Marines called themselves.
CALLER: I will be sure to buy that and read it. My last question is at Cason, what is your analysis of our strategy used at Cason?
NORTH: It was a victorious strategy. We destroyed the better part of two NVA divisions and by the time the Battle of Cason was over those divisions never saw battle again. They had to be pulled back into North Vietnam — in fact they were pulled all the way back into Hanoi and treated victoriously by their general who said they won the Battle of Cason but it was a disaster for them, as was, by the way, every other battle in Vietnam. It is the only war in which we won every single battle but we still lost the war.
CALLER: Sir, as I remember it was kind of hard to hold the Marines back because they felt like they were taking a lot of casualties and a lot of fire but not allowed to do what they are designed to do and that is be an assault force. What was the feeling on the ground there?
NORTH: I think as a rifle platoon and company commander your view is about 1,000 meters in front of you and you hope you can cover that ground and not have to back up and give it up again. The frustration that most of us felt, particularly in northern I-Corp was if we could just go north across the 17th parallel and just go north and take the fight to the NVA the war would have been over before I got there and certainly would have been over before I came home. There is not doubt in anybody’s mind that looks back on it from a long-term perspective that doesn’t agree that that was the big failing of the war, and I have a show coming up on that on War Stories in July. It is about the beginning of the war and where the war went.
CALLER: What do you think of operation Lam Son 719, in the 1970-71 time frame along Highway 9? What do you think of it if it had been an all-American operation in 1967 or 1968?
NORTH: All of the Lam Son operations were designed to help what Richard Nixon called the Vietnamization of the war. The problem was that the South Vietnamese were never as committed to this — a lot of the South Vietnamese people were, but the South Vietnamese government was never as committed to winning the war as they could have been had they known that the United States was going to stick with them and stick it out. They always had great doubts. So all the Lam Son operations were hit and run. Go across the border for a short distance and then pull back. There is no way you can win a war by saying to the enemy that we are going to hit you and then pull back. Of course the Ho Chi Minh Trail opened up again within days of the Lam Son operations in every case. It was an utter failure. Not because we had Vietnamese forces fighting it but because
GIACHINO: We have many more callers. Let’s take another call.
CALLER: With Mr. North’s background — and we are glad for his graciousness to come on the show and give us his time — with your background what do you see with the current intelligence communities trying to come together? There has always been that appearance of the CIA and FBI not working together and then sometimes CIA being on their own mission, so to speak. What are we facing now that they are trying to come together?
NORTH: I know Porter Goss and I am more hopeful today than I have been any time since the last administration. And that is because Peter Goss comes from the organization and was a successful Congressman and is now back at the organization at the top of the pyramid. What we desperately needed for years is a decent human intelligence collection capability. Now there were a lot of reasons why it was easy for Stansfield Turner under Jimmy Carter and the various cycle of CIA directors under the Clinton Administration to say “no we don’t want them collecting information because they do bad things and they talk to bad people.” There were a lot of restrictions on the CIA right up to 9-11 where a clandestine services officer talked to a person with a criminal record — Senator Torricelli out of New Jersey imposed this rule that said that if a CIA clandestine services officer, meaning a spy, talks to a person with a criminal record in a foreign country, we will prosecute him enough to hire his own defense attorneys. By then you have cut back to less than 3,000 real clandestine services officers and they are all locked inside our embassies and weren’t allowed to be non-official cover. If you look in the back of my first book you will see the actual passport that I carried when I was working undercover if you will. It’s not the right terminology but that is the one that everyone understands. I carried a passport with my face but not my name in it. And I did not have official cover. I had a diplomatic passport sewn into my shoe but I did not have a diplomatic cover such as the minister of art in our embassy in Paris.
The big problem that we have had is that we have relied too much on technical intelligence. The terrorists that we are up against today do not rely upon cell phones and SAT phones and emails. They rely on couriers. You cannot intercept what a courier is telling somebody. We have satellites that can read license plates from 100 miles from the sky — which is a good idea if you are going to be attacked by a license plate, but you have no idea who is driving the car and what they have inside of it and what they are planning to do.
GIACHINO: I think you are right. And it is very similar to what you mentioned earlier in the show — they have a kamikaze mindset. It is so different.
NORTH: That’s right, Renee. It is very difficult to deal with, but you can with decent human intelligence but that means what we needed to do and what we are not doing — putting spies on the ground to collect that kind of information.
GIACHINO: Colonel North you have indulged us with much more time than I had ever anticipated. I greatly appreciate it. Your book War Stories II: Heroism in the Pacific is a great book for all the folks here in Pensacola — the Cradle of Naval Aviation. The book is a great lesson on how the Navy has changed and how naval aviation changed during World War II.
My last question, if I may, and then I have to take a break and I will let you go as you have given us more time than you committed to, but my curiosity has the better of me. What are the three
NORTH: They are all on armor. It is helicopter armor, one used in vehicle armor and one for body armor that is very unique. And Mrs. North still gets a couple of pennies every time one is made even though I don’t run the company any more.
By the way, you mentioned the Cradle of Naval Aviation — we have shot some of our War Stories’ episodes down there in that great museum.
GIACHINO: Please come back. We would love to have you visit us in the studio. We appreciate all of your hard work as you served our country for 22 years as a Marine and then served more years in government service and now continue to provide great information to all of us through your War Stories’ books and television program. We appreciate your time and great patriotic efforts on our behalf.
NORTH: I appreciate you. Thanks.March 9, 2005