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BOOK REVIEW: ‘American Heroes’

- - Sunday, November 10, 2013

AMERICAN HEROES: ON THE HOMEFRONT
By Oliver North
Threshold Editions, $30, 254 pages

Lt. Col. Oliver North, a retired Marine, author, columnist and host of the award-winning documentary series "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel, was once called by President Reagan "an American hero." He has the credentials to prove it.

An Annapolis graduate who chose to make his career in the Marine Corps, then-Lt. North led a platoon in combat in Vietnam, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and two Purple Hearts. From 1983 to 1986, he served as counterterrorism coordinator on the staff of the National Security Council.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, with the nation shocked into awareness of the very real threat posed by Islamic terrorists and the need to meet that threat head-on, Mr. North's Fox News team has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, often into the thick of combat, to report on the men and women who serve our nation, too often with little or no appreciation or thanks.

He writes, "The young Americans I have been covering for Fox News forfeited the comforts of home, absented themselves from the affection of loved ones, and volunteered to go into harm's way in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth. They are the best and bravest of their generation. We are all better for their service."

It's these young warriors and those waiting for them at home — those "who have endured the loss of loved ones and the resilience of the heroes who have lost limbs and yet persevere through terrible trauma" — that inspired this book. "Their triumph over tragedy is the heart and soul of this book, and I'm thankful they have allowed us to tell their stories."

These are not easy stories to come to grips with, involving as they do clean-cut young Americans, many just married, others with small children, going off to war, being maimed by the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have become the Islamists' battlefield weapon of choice, then returning to their wives and children, or fiances, and coming to terms with what will in effect be a new life.

At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Mr. North discusses the advancements made in the treatment of these young Americans with Jack Fowler, the same Navy corpsman, he writes, "who had bound up my wounds during a bloody battle in Vietnam."

Mr. Fowler, who after Vietnam went on to make a distinguished career in military medicine, points out that in earlier wars, the young Americans being treated at Bethesda and other military hospitals would not have survived.

But today, field corpsman are better trained and equipped, and battlefield casualties, usually from IEDs, are moved rapidly by helicopter to a fully equipped field hospital, then flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Finally, "'usually within seventy-two to ninety-six hours after being wounded,'" they land at Andrews Air Force base and are brought to Bethesda.

"'This is where the high-speed trip stops,'" says Mr. Fowler. "'Many of our casualties need multiple surgeries.'" And while most of them were remarkably fit when wounded, "'healing for body, mind and spirit is nearly always more painful than the original injury. Recovery also requires the active participation of those who love them — their parents, spouses, children, siblings and close friends.'"

That "active participation" is what this book is all about. Mr. North applauds the efforts of groups such as the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, with headquarters at Quantico, Va., and detachments at Walter Reed and other military hospitals, that facilitate travel and lodgings for spouses and parents.

The stories told here are moving, at times wrenching. But they're also inspiring stories, a tribute to service wives, a very special breed of hero, and to the fiances, families and friends who give our returning heroes total support and reason to recover.

Mr. North, who continues to serve his country, has performed a singular service by bringing these stories to us. Lest we forget. Semper Fidelis.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of "Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement" (Wiley).