In his new book, Oliver North chronicles the toll of war

Nov. 22, 2013 @ 07:15 AM

Parts of Oliver North’s new book are tough going.

In “American Heroes on the Homefront: The Hearts of Heroes,” he and co-author Bob Hamer profile service members who were injured or killed while deployed, and their loved ones. The descriptions are graphic. Some of the photographs are shattering.

One chapter is about Brian Beyer, a Marine who lost a leg, a hand and three fingers as he attempted to disarm an improvised explosive device in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The pictures of Beyer’s injuries don’t leave much to the imagination.

“There are images in this book that I would never put up on the air,” said North, whose Fox News show “War Stories” chronicles historical conflicts and recent ones. “I’ve never shown a dead American. I’ve never shown the face of a wounded American. But when I went to the families (about the book), this is what they wanted.”

He asked if they were sure. “They said, ‘Yeah. We want you tell the story. Our story.’ I’m paraphrasing, but essentially 17 families said, ‘We want you to tell why we came, what we did, what happened to us, and how we’re getting through it.’”

North will sign copies of the book at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Great Smokies Flea Market, 220 West Dumplin Valley Road in Kodak. At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, he will appear in Farragut at Costco, 10745 Kingston Pike.

“American Heroes on the Homefront” is the third in North’s “American Heroes” book series. The new title covers events in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. engagements in Vietnam and Bosnia.

North, who commanded a Marine platoon in Vietnam, decided to write the new book after a dramatic “War Stories” assignment. He was embedded with a Marine battalion in Ramadi, Iraq (”the bloodiest place on the planet”), and at the same time, a camera crew filmed the Marines’ families.

“When I got back home,” he recalled, “my wife said to me ... ‘You’ve never really understood it till now, what we were going through back home.’”

He acknowledged that she was right. “And so I committed to her that I would do more than you can do in an hour-long television documentary,” he said. “I went back and got permission from these families, and the military, and the hospitals, to track back with these guys and show, in their words, what they’ve been through. And almost to a person, they wanted it.”

The book is full of medical details. Service members receive excellent health care, North noted. “Military medicine is magnificent, the best in the world,” he said. He is less complimentary of the care provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which he characterized as “spotty.”

And, he said, veterans face other hurdles as they return to civilian life, including higher unemployment rates. “What these youngsters want,” he said, “and I can say youngsters, because I’m 70, is an opportunity to be productive for their families. And they can’t find work.”

North came to prominence in the 1980s, thanks to his role in the Iran-Contra political scandal. How does he feel about the scandal all these years later?

“About the only people who ever ask me is reporters,” he said. “I do not spend a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone, least of all me, or any of the youngsters in this book, to play the game of coulda-woulda-shoulda.”

North worries that the American public has forgotten about the ongoing conflict. “When you’ve got 50,000 Americans in harm’s way in one country, in Afghanistan,” he said, “wouldn’t you expect to see a little more coverage?”

He would like for his book to raise awareness. “The tragedy of this war is that very few Americans can name a single person in a military uniform,” he said. “I think most Americans have pretty much forgotten about it. Hopefully this book will help remedy that.”

kburns@themountainpress.com