In the Company of Heroes: Lt. Col. Oliver North on Service, Sacrifice & Spirit-Empowered Leadership

“The quality that is most necessary for the future of the

country is the one that’s being inculcated right here at the

University of Mobile, and that is a godly world view – if

you will, a biblical world view.”

Lt. Col. Oliver North

It is an awesome thing to have a United States president describe you as “an American hero.”

Lt. Col. Oliver North earned that accolade from President Ronald Reagan. He put the spotlight on what it means to be a real hero during the 9th annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet.

“Heroes aren’t just people wearing spandex suits and capes,” North told an audience of more than 800 gathered at the Mobile Convention Center on March 27.

“I know that’s what young people think of when you use the word ‘hero’ – or someone who catches the pass in the end zone, or the person who sets a new Olympic record, or climbs the never-before-climbed mountain. But the classical definition of a hero is a person who puts themself at risk for the benefit of others,” he said.

The more than 30,000 Americans he has interviewed as host of Fox News Channel’s “War Stories” awardwinning military documentary series are heroes in the classical sense.

“I spend nearly all of my time for Fox News in the company of heroes,” he said. At nearly 70 years of age, North is passionate about telling the stories of the men and women who make up America’s all-volunteer armed services, and their families and loved ones who make their own sacrifices on the homefront for our nation.

“When they gather in a prayer circle and put their arms around one another, they’re not going out on a football field on a Friday night. These are guys going into mortal combat against an enemy who intends to die — and sometimes the enemy wins,” North said.

Shaping the Future

The annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet raises financial support for the UMobile Fund. The event brings a speaker of national prominence to the Mobile area who uses his or her influence to open doors of opportunity for the next generation of leaders.

Previous speakers have included former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.

UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley said, at its core, the Leadership Banquet is about influence.

“What we do at the University of Mobile is not just about quality music, athletic programs, national championships and all those kinds of things. It’s not even about academics,” Foley said. “It’s about influence – the influence exercised by hundreds of highly capable men and women, graduates of the University of Mobile, who have mastered a body of knowledge according to the degree which they have earned, who know how to think, who know what they believe and why they believe it, and who have the courage and willingness to use their influence in appropriate and effective ways to create change in the places they stand each day.”

He added, “It’s all about the influence required to achieve an ideal – that there may be one nation under the authority of God that produces liberty and justice for all of her citizens. It is an ideal that has never been fully realized, but it must be and it can be. The key to that occurring is the generation of young men and women who were represented before you just now.”

Spirit-Empowered Leaders

North emphasized the importance of preparing that next generation, such as those students he met during his visit to the UMobile campus prior to the banquet. He said he was grateful to spend time with students who are using their God-given talents to carry on their own challenging missions.

“The purpose, dedication and commitment I see in those young students gives me hope for the future,” North said. “Every student that I met here today has been intent on gathering the skills and tools that they need to help change the world. That effort is important not just to the city of Mobile, not just to the state of Alabama, but it’s important to this country.”

North said it was clear to him that the UMobile faculty, staff and administration “are focused on preparing what I would call spiritempowered leaders. I like to see that.”

Essential Role Models

North spoke about the importance of godly role models in his own life, and in the lives of students.

“We all live in challenging times. Our nation is, in my humble opinion, in deep, deep trouble. We need godly leaders in every walk of life in this country.”

Those godly leaders are being developed at the University of Mobile, he said. “The quality that is most necessary for the future of the country is the one that’s being inculcated right here at the University of Mobile, and that is a godly world view – if you will, a biblical world view. The importance of a staff, a faculty, an administration that understands biblical principles is essential. Why? Because they are role models,” he said.
North told how a role model dramatically affected his life.

“I was married, 38 years old with two kids, before I came to know what was really important in life, and it was all because of a role model in my life,” he said.

North described a senior military officer he served under who was known as a “Bible thumper.” Once, when North jumped off a military vehicle, landed wrong and seriously reinjured his back, as others were calling for medics, the officer knelt beside him and prayed, “Dear Lord, You can do anything. Heal this man.”

The pain immediately went away. As North got up off the ground and said “thank you, sir,” the officer replied, “Don’t thank me. You should thank your Lord and Savior and you need to come to know Him.”

Later, in a formal military ceremony where North was presenting the unit for embarkation to travel to a mission, the officer took a risk. In front of senior officers, he handed North not the official papers usually passed over at the embarkation ceremony. “He hands me this book,” said North, indicating a Bible he had at the podium. “In front of everybody, he says, ‘Here, Major. On the way across the Atlantic, read this book. Embark the troops.’”

North likened it to the Centurion described in the books of Matthew and Luke, who put his own life at risk by asking Jesus to heal his servant.

The Roman soldier was putting everything on the line – not only his own life, but also that of his family – by violating Roman law and risking the penalty of death by crucifixion.

“He puts himself at enormous risk, and he does it for someone else,” which is the very definition of a hero, said North. He identified with that soldier of long ago, North said, and the role models of that soldier and his senior officer were significant steps that led him to a conversion experience and relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s what the University of Mobile is doing, he said as he held up his Bible, “the idea of showing young people how to live, how to be a role model, setting a moral example based on very straightforward principles that are all in here.”

‘It’s What We Do’

Through his work on “War Stories,” North has been embedded in 57 U.S. and allied combat units in 13 1/2 years and in nearly every theater of war. As he spoke about America’s heroes, screens in the banquet hall flashed photographs of soldiers in battle, carrying heavy loads of equipment and supplies on their backs, at rest with their comrades.

One photograph showed a U.S. Navy corpsman running toward a helicopter as a firefight raged behind him and smoke rose above the horizon from the city of Baghdad. On his back was a wounded soldier, head wrapped in field-dressed bandages. To the right was a film crew from Reuters international news agency. North, standing on the helicopter ramp, took the photo as the corpsman ran toward him and bullets hit the helicopter.

As the corpsman drew closer, it became obvious that the injured man was an enemy soldier. “I heard the Reuters crew shout out, ‘Hey mate, what did you do that for? Didn’t you notice he was an Iraqi?’ In other words, ‘You stupid American,’” North recalled.

The corpsman shouted back, “Didn’t you notice he was wounded? That’s what we do! We’re Americans.”

North said it is actions such as these that make America a role model for the world.

America’s military involvement across the globe has allowed members of the military to serve as role models, sharing the American ideals of freedom that they are fighting to preserve. As a result, Muslim girls in Afghanistan now have access to education, and the U.S. has served as a role model for how to protect Muslim women and children, he said.

“What these young Americans have done by going into harm’s way… by being the kinds of people we are as Americans, is they become better diplomats than some of those people at Foggy Bottom, the Department of State,” he said.

Tough Times

In the middle of the summer of 1987, North was at the center of the nation’s attention during hearings about the Iran-Contra affair. The pressure was intense.

“It was a tough time,” North recalled. “It was humiliating to my wife, my best friend. She is the only American woman I know who has had to flee her home with her children because of what her husband did for his country. Terrorists were on their way to our house to kill them – not just me – them. That’s the kind of enemy we are up against.”

On the first day of the hearings, he walked between a double cordon of security, a woman pushed a card into his hand.

Every day throughout the hearing, as North’s appearance transfixed the nation and he endured intense questioning, his attorney would prop the card up in front of them so North could read its message.

At one point, reporters asked what was written on the card.
“The answers,” said North’s attorney.

North held up the card and read its message to the banquet audience.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

“My friends,” said North, “If you don’t know those as answers, be assured of this – the youngsters who graduate from the University of Mobile will. And those youngsters will do what Ronald Reagan, the president I was blessed to work for, admonished us to do.

“Ronald Reagan said, as only he could say it, that we as Americans have a rendezvous with destiny. Our destiny is not to become second rate. Our destiny is not to become like France. Our destiny is to be the home of the brave and the land of the free.”

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.