Excerpts from Oliver North's War Stories

This Vietnam Vet Says Any Parallel Is Absurd

    Back in the United States, second-guessing of the Pentagon is well under way. Much of the media back home apparently believe that Operation Iraqi Freedom has run afoul of bad planning. The word “quagmire” is mentioned now as if coalition forces were bogged down in a swamp. Some commentators are comparing the situation to Vietnam.

    One of the troopers watching the news on our little TV set asks, “Is that right, Colonel North? You were in Vietnam. Is this what happened there?”

    “From their safe haven in North Vietnam, the rulers in Hanoi invaded South Vietnam with conventional military forces and simultaneously orchestrated an indigenous insurgency,” I tell him. “Other than a bombing campaign, we never seriously threatened Hanoi. That’s not the case here in Iraq, where we’re taking the fight directly to the despot who has attacked his neighbors and oppressed the Iraqi people for more than three decades. Here we face a conventional indigenous army and some ‘guerillas’-mostly foreign fedayeen on a jihad.”

    Iraq isn’t the “quagmire” that Vietnam became, at least not for anyone but the Iraqis, who have been leaderless since the beginning of the war. Saddam may have survived thus far, but the Iraqi military is essentially on its own.

    Quagmire? I don’t think so.

Media Misinformation

    At 1400 this afternoon, as we were setting up our camera and satellite gear to go live on our network morning show, FOX & Friends, the producer called me on my satellite phone to say that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and several other newspapers were beating the drum about the Marines being out of food, water, and ammo. I complained that it just wasn’t true, but if they liked, I would be glad to put on some Marines to tell the American people how things really were.

    New York agreed that would be a good idea-probably thinking that I would interview a general or at least a colonel. Instead, I grabbed a gunnery sergeant and asked him if he could produce two enlisted Marines to stand on either side of me. In an instant, Sgt. Jason Witt was on my left and a young lance corporal was on my right.

    Without having time to brief the young Marines on what was happening, I hear Steve, Edie, and Brian talking to me through my earpiece. Their first question is about the Marines having outrun their supplies. I turn to Sgt. Witt and ask, “Have you guys been hungry out here?”

    “No, sir,” he replies. “We’ve been well taken care of.”
    “And how about thirsty?”

    “No sir???.we’re good.”

    “And ammo?”

    The sergeant grins and answers, “Good on ammo, and morale is good, sir.” Relishing the chance to send another message as well, Witt goes on to say hello to his wife, Melissa, his parents, and his twin brother back in Tyler, Texas.

    And when the lance corporal has his chance, he responds the same way when I put the questions to him.

    “The New York Times says the Marines are out of food, water, and ammo. Are you hungry?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Are you thirsty?

    “No, sir.”

    “Are you short on ammo?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Well, what do you need?” I persist.

    Without a moment’s hesitation, the young Marine replies, “Just send more enemy, sir.”

Media’s Spin Ignores Troops’ Service

    Shortly after my return to the United States from Iraq, President George W. Bush, a former F-104 pilot, wearing a military flight suit, roared onto the flight deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in a U.S. Navy W-3B Viking. Shortly after landing, he welcomed the crew home and congratulated then for serving with distinction in the war against terrorism and during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    The president’s remarks had barely been transcribed before the criticism began. Some in the media described the trip to the carrier as a publicity stunt, and castigated the White House for an extravagant waste of tax dollars.

    Forgotten in all of this were the 5,500 officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln. When their mission was completed, they had been deployed for 290 consecutive days and had traveled more than 100,000 miles – the equivalent of circling the globe four times.

U.S. Military’s Accomplishments Unparalleled

    I’ve spent much of my life in the military and have concluded, based on how these warriors performed under combat, that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen, and Marines serving in Iraq are without parallel. No military force in history has ever gone so far, so fast, with so few casualties as this group of young Americans.

    I said that repeatedly during my time with the troops and I know no other way to put it. It seemed fairly self-evident to nearly every embedded correspondent, and certainly was to me – and I don’t pretend to be nearly as observant as a ‘professional journalist.’ I didn’t learn journalism at the Naval Academy. But I did learn to recognize courage, competence, commitment, and compassion – all qualities that these youngsters have in abundance.

A U.S. Soldier on Foreign Journalists

    “What I don’t get is why we’re letting these foreign reporters hang around with us. They are more hostile than the Iraqis.”

Blinding Speed

    We are only seven days into Operation Iraqi Freedom, and almost half the country and nearly all of its resources are in coalition hands. The 485,000-man Iraqi army is being mauled in every confrontation with American and British forces. More than eight thousand Iraqi soldiers have been taken prisoner and tens of thousands more have decided that they are unwilling to die for Saddam and have simply walked away from their defensive positions.

    While some Iraqi units, like those at Najaf and An Nasiriyah, fight fiercely, and surrender ground reluctantly when confronted with overwhelming U.S. firepower, many others will engage for a few minutes, and in some cases a few hours, and then the soldiers quickly slip into civilian clothes and join the local population. It’s not uncommon for Marines sweeping through a trench line from which they have just taken fire to find the position littered with green uniforms, helmets, gas masks, empty magazine pouches, and black boots. And then, a few moments later, dozens of beardless young men with short, military-style haircuts, garbed in Arab dress, are just standing around with no apparent place to go. Everyone knows that just minutes or hours before, they were wearing the discarded uniforms.

Short on Glory, Long on Guts

    As we disembark again, a rifle company of Marines shuffles past, weapons slung over their shoulders, the seat showing on the sleeves and trousers of their desert camouflage uniforms. They all have gas masks on their hips and bulky chemical protective suits in rucksacks. Web belts and carrying harnesses are crammed with canteens and canvas pouches for transporting the tools of war: magazines, grenades, ammunition, first aid kit, and radios. Their flak jackets and helmets are covered with grime, and dust swirls in the dead air as they pass. It occurs to me that the antiwar activists in Hollywood and the striped-pants bureaucrats at the United Nations who have succeeded in delaying the inevitable ought to see them.

France and Iraq

    They [U.S. soldiers] do know that the French have “wimped out once again.” And they are quick to remind any journalist who will listen that it’s okay because, as one Marine puts it, “the French have always been there when they needed us.”

    Everyone here knows that the French helped Iraq build its nuclear reactor – the Osarik facility that Israel destroyed in 1981. But there is also widespread belief here in Kuwait that the French are afraid that when U.S. forces get to Baghdad, intelligence officers and FBI agents will find evidence of French arms sales and involvement in providing the Iraqis with the means of producing chemicals and biological weapons and delivery systems – nearly all of which Paris provided to the Iraqis on credit. If Saddam goes down, the French won’t get paid.

Witnessing the War’s First Helicopter Crash

    My videotape of the assault lift shows that initially visibility is fairly clear as we proceed north toward Iraq, though there are increasing amounts of dust in the air, and occasionally I have to flip my NVGs up because the fires from several burning oil wells cause them to “flare” and temporarily blind me. I can clearly see the other three birds, flying close behind us, no more than five or ten rotor widths away, carrying elements of the Battalion Command Group. All four helicopters are supposed to land in the same zone to disgorge their passengers.

    Seconds later, when I turn to “shoot” again out the open hatch, the sky has suddenly turned hazy. The ground below, whipping by at more than one hundred knots, is still visible through my NVGs, but out in front of us a local sandstorm – a miniature sharqui – has reduced forward visibility to just a few yards.

    Suddenly, there is a blinding flash on the left side and slightly below our helicopter. Though our bird never wavers on its course, up in the cockpit, Lt. Col. Driscoll is instantly on the intercom and the radio: “What was that?”

    Pennington responds first, his voice flat, coming through the lip mike: “Dash Three has gone down, sir.”

    There is a moment of silence while the magnitude of what’s just happened sinks in. My camera, pointed over the port side .50-caliber machine gun, captures the terrible fireball. I know the answer even before Driscoll comes up on the radio and asks the question, “Any survivors?”

    “Dash One, this is Dash Four. Negative. No way.”

Terrorism’s Innocent Iraqi Victims

    Before heading out of the little cluster of homes, he warns his Marines to stay off the dirt road going out to the main highway, since it could be mined.

    As the squad moves back out through the wheat field, the only young male adult in the small community follows us. He carries a small child, a little boy only about four years old who is obviously in pain. One of the fire team leaders gestures to the man to stop following them, but he persists. Finally, the squad’s medical corpsman approached the man and examines the boy. It is obvious to the corpsman that the youngster’s left arm is broken. When the corpsman informs the staff sergeant of this, the squad leader allows the man and boy to accompany us.

    The Navy doctor and a corpsman administer a mild painkiller, set the broken bone, and apply a fiberglass cast.

    “That man was a solider until last week,” the translator replies. “He deserted from his unit just north of Basra and came back here to his wife and son. His father is the head man in the village. Last night three fedayeen arrived and started pushing people around. This guy hid out on his roof because the word is out that the foreigners are shooting deserters. One of the big brave fedayeen pushed the little kid off the roof and that’s how he broke his arm. This morning, when the fedayeen guy on the roof took his RPG potshot at the armor moving up the highway, the tank shot back and killed him. The other two panicked and took off across the fields on their motorcycles. End of story-except that this Iraqi father now says they all owe us big-time and if we ever need anything, just ask.

    As the translator finishes the story, there is a muffled explosion from the direction of the little village.

    Both the father and his four-year-old son were killed by an Italian land mine planted by a Saudi terrorist fighting to keep Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in power. It all seems totally irrational, and it reminds me of the expression that my Marines in Vietnam had used for such deaths. They’d have said the Iraqi father and his son had been “wasted.” And they’d have been right.