Interview by Mike Ciandella. Originally published in the PHC Herald, 4/19/11
Patrick Henry College
Lt. Col. Oliver North
Lt. Col. Oliver North
Those words were spoken by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who will be the keynote speaker at Patrick Henry College’s 2011 Commencement Ceremony, May 14, at 11 a.m. in Purcellville, Virginia. North is a combat-decorated Marine, a #1 best-selling author, the founder of a small business, an inventor with three U.S. patents, an NRA life member, and a syndicated columnist.
Many people remember North from the Iran-Contra controversy in 1986, but it is neither this issue, nor his service in the Marine Corps that North views as his most important accomplishment in life.
“Husband of one, father of four, grandfather of twelve (last count),” he says matter-of-factly. “That’s the most important part of me. If you haven’t learned something along the way that’s valuable enough to impart to the ones who come behind you, then you probably wasted whatever years the good Lord gave you. My hope is that I can impart some of what I learned in life to the students who are graduating and to encourage them in a way that is important for their future.
North currently works as a correspondent for FOX news, as well as hosting his own documentary series, “War Stories,” on the network. North enjoys the work that he has now, and the network allows him to cover the topics that he loves best.
“I have had a very exciting life,” he adds. “Very few people have ever had a life as exciting as mine. And it’s still exciting. I will be leaving three days after (the PHC) Commencement for what will be around my twentieth trip to cover our troops deployed overseas. This trip will be to Afghanistan, as have been the last half dozen or so. I usually go out about twice a year for FOX, usually for about a month to a month and a half on average. The purpose is to let the American people hear the stories [of soldiers], and their stories are heroic.”
For the past ten years North has interviewed soldiers and law enforcement personnel as part of his job, and he says he appreciates not having to depend on celebrity gossip for his stories. Instead, he gets to “keep company with heroes.
“The classical definition of a hero, as I will say in my commencement address, isn’t a comic book figure; it’s not the guy who caught the winning pass at a football game or the guy who scored the winning run at a baseball game. A hero, a much abused word in our language, is actually a person who puts him or herself at risk for the benefit of others. And there’s lots of ways of putting yourself at risk. You don’t have to wear a digital camouflage uniform and flak jacket to work every day. That’s the definition of a hero.”
North remembers his own commencement speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, but just barely.
“I think that most commencement speeches go on way too long. Everybody is anxious to walk across the stage and get their diploma. I think what a commencement speaker will have to do is encourage those who are leaving. To have them reflect on what they learned and how it applies to the rest of their lives.”
General Greene of the U.S. Marine Corps was the keynote speaker at North’s own commencement ceremony at Annapolis.
“I reflect back on those things now, and I think, ‘Do I remember anything of what he said?’ Not really. Do I remember what is really important about life? Yes I do. So General Greene must have reinforced what I learned at the Naval Academy, what I knew before I got there, and what was modified by the experience and how I could apply that to the rest of my life.
“Things like duty, honor, and integrity meant a lot to me then, and they mean a lot today, and they were reinforced by the commencement speaker. I remember a couple of key phrases, and if that’s what the graduates of Patrick Henry College take out of their commencement that day, then that will be good. Most of what you need to know about life, you’ve learned from Mom and Dad.
Students at Patrick Henry College, he suggested, “Had the additional advantage of being surrounded by peers and by instructors and professors and teachers who allow you to expand your base of knowledge and the core of what you are was established before you got here. That is one of the great things about [Patrick Henry College].”
Assigned to the National Security Council Staff in the Reagan Administration, North was the United States Government’s counter-terrorism coordinator from 1983-1986 and was involved in planning the rescue of 804 medical students on the island of Grenada and played a major role in the daring capture of the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. After the U.S. raid on Muammar Gaddafi’s terrorist bases in Libya, North was targeted for assassination by Abu Nidal, one of the world’s deadliest terrorists. President Ronald Reagan described him as “an American hero.”