In a special interview Friday on the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Leahy welcomed Colonel Oliver North to the show.
North is a former decorated U.S. Marine, #1 best-selling author, founder of small business and holder of three U.S. patents. He is the co-founder of the Freedom Alliance, an organization serving wounded U.S. military personnel and their families.
During the third hour, North discussed his new book, The Rifleman and gave a brief synopsis of the story. He continued the conversation by comparing and contrasting the issues of 1775 which he thought almost mirrored today’s problems with bureaucracy that can hinder good military leadership.
Leahy: We are joined now on the line by Colonel Oliver North who’s written a new novel called The Rifleman. Welcome, Colonel North.
North: Good to be with you brother. Thank you.
Leahy: And by the way, welcome to a fellow upstate New Yorker. You grew up in Philmont, New York, in Columbia County just south of Albany. I grew up in Clinton County near Ballston Spa, Madison County. (North laughs) And my kid brother graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport where you attended for a couple of years.
North: I did indeed. You know snow. (laughs)
Leahy: I do know snow. As you do. One of my favorite Oliver North stories was when you were at the Naval Academy, boxing is a big deal there isn’t it?
North: Oh. Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Leahy: Everybody has to learn how to box, and they do these competitions all the time. And you had a legendary boxing match with James Webb who later became a senator and Secretary of the Navy. He was the prohibitive favorite and you were so tough that you beat him. Congratulations.
North: Well, thank you. In fact, I beat him every time. I beat him in the quarter-finals. I beat him in the semi-finals in our sophomore year. And then I beat him in the championship in our third bout which was our junior year.
And then the next year he dropped down a weight class, so he could avoid me. (chuckles) And a young guy was a Navy p-3 pilot just whipped the tar out of him because he lost so much weight he just didn’t have any strength left. So he never won a championship.
Leahy: And he was a favorite. I detect just a little bit of rivalry there Colonel North.
North: No. I truly have gotten over it. He has not. (Leahy laughs) He’s that kind of a guy. He’s a very gifted guy and a very talented and real-live walking talking American war hero. He just can’t get over what happened 50 years ago for crying out loud.
Leahy: If he’s ever on our program, we will be certain to remind him of that Colonel North. (laughter) Tell us about your new novel The Rifleman.
North: Well, it’s a fun book. And it’s about a time in the history of America. It is historical. There are characters I created for it in which you end up with this destructive disarray in our government. And the opponents of the commander in chief that the Congress had just appointed had launched intrigues against him to remove him from his post. There were spies, there were traitors, terrorists.
All of it a great threat to what the founders had tried to start and not gotten very far in 1775. It sounds an awful like what’s going on in Washington today. This gives you some reflection on the fact is the very first thing that Washington does is he wants some riflemen up in Boston. He’s the Commander in Chief up there. And he sends forth from Virginia two rifle companies commanded by some of the very first officers in the real Continental Army line officers.
One was this Daniel Morgan character who would be a neighbor of ours right here where I am right now in Virginia. And they’d walk 600 miles to Boston carrying their rifles of course. And I-95 was not there at the time. You didn’t have bridges and some places didn’t even have ferries.
They get there and then immediately get sent off to the line taking off British officers forcing the British back into Boston. And then in its infinite wisdom, Congress demands that Washington launch an offensive and the only place he could do it was in Canada in the middle of winter. Think about how that was.
That’s the kind of winters you and I grew up in upstate New York. They have to walk there through the wilds of Maine and by the time they get to Quebec which is their objective and their unit was about half strength.
I don’t want to give away the end of the story here, but it’s a disaster. Let’s put it that way. When you look at what they went through. Not just the words that they used. And what they endured to create this new country gives you a little bit of faith in the DNA gene pool of America. We’ve been through some tough times. Nothing compared to what they went through back in those days.
Leahy: And Daniel Morgan is a historical character. Wasn’t he one of the models for the main character in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Patriot?”
North: Yeah. He was one of the first practitioners if you will of partisan warfare. And because his riflemen were so skilled in endurance and their tenacity was so great, he was able to do things that other officers just couldn’t do.
And he was a very young man but by comparison to his troops, many of whom were teenagers. He was absolutely phenomenal and becomes a close friend of Lafayette later on in the story. Of course, there’s a lot more to tell about Morgan. He’s a phenomenal character.
Leahy: Now, you’ve written, I think I’ve read Mission Compromised. Very good story. But you’ve written a lot of stories. Will the Daniel Morgan character appear in other novels? Or is he limited to The Rifleman?
North: What’s fascinating about this thing is the false character in this thing if you will the ancestor of the Peter Newman that’s in Mission Compromised, The Jericho Sanction, and The Assassins.
He was proved that the Peter Newman character, his ancestor, is the main character in this book. And so it’s kind of the ultimate prequel if you will and explains why these guys have the kind of faith that they’ve got and the kind of things that they do.
Most of which are taken from my real-life experiences. But in the places I worked in our government you weren’t allowed to write stuff about it, so you’d make a novel out of it. You can have a lot more fun with it and you don’t go to jail. (Chuckles)
Leahy: Colonel North, it looks like there is a theme in all of your novels and the theme that there appears to be this, there’s a way to get things done and it’s not necessarily always by the exact rules in the book. You got to trust the leader who knows how to do it. Do I have that right?
North: Yep. That’s a fair summary. I think there’s more to it than that. As there is in my life and part of it is a spiritual connection. Part of it is also knowing things and that you can walk right up to the edge of the line and you better not cross it. The idea of being responsible as a leader and accountable. Loyalty matters. It really does.
But loyalty without integrity is nothing. So the leaders that I respect are the kinds of people I write about. Leaders that have been most effective in my life have been selfless, not selfish. The kinds of leaders that I admire are role models for others.
Morgan is certainly that. If you’ve read Peter Newman he is certainly that and if you’ve read Peter Newman they are doing their life story kind of thing with Mission Compromised.
Leahy: Is there also a theme looking at the current military? You retired from active duty 20 years ago or so.
North: ’88. Yeah. And spent the last 18 years covering it.
Leahy: That’s right. Great series at Fox News about war heroes. I remember watching that. I guess the question is, do you see in the current military some of these same problems of a bureaucracy stifling the effective military commander?
North: You’re good. You’re very good. That is, of course, part of the serious problem we’ve got. We’ve got some magnificent soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen, and marines. And I’ve been with them. 60 plus M-beds. And part of the problem we’ve got is a bureaucracy which is almost like the one that created Daniel Morgan’s rifle companies.
And if you look at what transpires in the challenge that we experienced in terms of the revolution, and we experience today is compounded by a very ineffective and very self-serving political establishment.
It’s amazing how we haven’t gotten beyond that at this point. If you look at the mistakes that were made in both the history of what transpired in 1775 and 1776 and you look at what’s happening today, the courage and fortitude and remarkable tenacity of these young Americans is almost frivoled away inside the five-sided wastebasket in Washington which we call the Pentagon. And quite frankly in Capitol Hill.
I wouldn’t take a billion dollars for the guys I served with in Vietnam. The fact is we didn’t lose any battles on the battlefield of Vietnam. We lost the war in the quarters of power in Washington. And it was until this war the longest one we’d ever fought.
By the way, the longest one we ever fought until Vietnam was the American Revolution. Think about that. We didn’t have MRE’s and real boots in those days.
Leahy: It was really tough back then. Great great folks.
Leahy: The Rifleman by Oliver North. I recommend it. You’re going to be in the Nashville area tomorrow night?
Leahy: Thank you so much for joining us. Will you come back?
North: Yes I’ll come back.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Oliver North” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.