Those who fight America’s wars - soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines - are my only “beat” for Fox News. It’s the best job in broadcasting, for I get to keep company with heroes. For some, a hero wears a spandex suit and a cape. My heroes wear flak jackets, flight suits and combat boots.
Today, we pause as a nation to honor all who have been laid to rest after serving in our armed forces to preserve our liberty and offer others the hope of freedom. All those to whom we pay tribute on Memorial Day sacrificed the comforts of home, the warmth and affection of loved ones - and in many cases, life itself - while in uniform.
The great legacy of those we honor on this day is reflected in the bright, brave young Americans serving in lonely outposts around the world, at sea, along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. They too deserve the prayers and support of a grateful people.
Our nation is in the eighth year of a war against merciless enemies who have proved repeatedly that there is no atrocity beneath them - and that they will do whatever it takes to kill as many of our countrymen as possible. Yet, the young Americans serving today consistently abjure responding to barbarity with brutality. A report filed during my most recent assignment in Afghanistan offers a vivid example of their perseverance, skill and self-discipline:
Strongpoint Bravo, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2008 - Patrolling, especially in a counterinsurgency environment, is essential for collecting intelligence, denying the enemy safe havens and hunting down insurgents. Foot and vehicle-mounted patrols are a key component in “winning hearts and minds.” And in Afghanistan, patrols go on around the clock, 24/7. They are all inherently dangerous.
A few hours after our arrival at Strongpoint Bravo - a fortress constructed of dirt-filled Hesco barriers and bunkers - Maj. Michael Little, the 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment Weapons Company commander, asked if two of our Fox News team members wanted to “ride along” with a platoon-sized, five-Humvee “presence” patrol to a small agricultural community a few kilometers north of the strongpoint. Cameraman Chris Jackson and I donned our flak jackets and helmets, grabbed our camera gear and reported to the dust-covered vehicle staging area.
Lt. John Branson issued a detailed patrol order describing the enemy and friendly situation, and then I piled into a Humvee behind Lt. Branson. Mr. Jackson took a seat in the right rear of the vehicle, commanded by Sgt. Courtney Rauch, and introduced himself to the driver, Cpl. Arnaldo Figueroa; a Cpl. Wright, manning a .50-caliber machine-gun in the turret and Cpl. Joseph Donald on left-rear security.
The patrol was about 545 yards from a walled compound when Sgt. Rauch saw something suspicious in front of us and signaled an immediate halt. It was too late.
A massive improvised explosive device detonated directly beneath Sgt. Rauch’s lead vehicle. The blast blew Cpl. Wright out of the turret and Cpl. Donald and Mr. Jackson out the left and right rear doors. Though heavily armored, the Humvee was engulfed immediately in flames.
Trapped in the front of the burning vehicle were Cpl. Figueroa and Sgt. Rauch. Despite his wounds from shrapnel and the blast, Mr. Jackson immediately jumped up and scrambled back to the burning vehicle. With ammunition “cooking off” inside the Humvee, he somehow jerked the buckled armored door open and pulled Sgt. Rauch to safety. On the left side of the vehicle, Cpls. Wright and Donald did the same for Cpl. Figueroa.
Both badly wounded Marines were dragged to safety behind the next vehicle in the column. While two U.S. Navy medical corpsmen, Jose Pena and Gregory Cox, administered first aid, Lt. Branson deployed his Marines to secure a helicopter landing zone. Less than 20 minutes after the explosion, the injured were on the way to a field hospital.
This is but one of the hundreds of stories I’ve had the privilege of reporting while embedded with the brave men and women of our armed forces. Many of these accounts are chronicled in my newest book, “American Heroes: In the Fight Against Radical Islam.”
Real heroes are selfless. The images and stories in this book attest that those serving America in harm’s way have selfless courage in abundance. So do their families and loved ones waiting anxiously at home. This book was written for them. Hopefully it will inspire those who know the importance of Memorial Day to thank the men and women serving now - for no nation has ever had a military force better than the one we have today.
Oliver L. North is the host of “War Stories” on Fox News Channel. The above article consists of excerpts from the new best seller “American Heroes: In the War Against Radical Islam.”