By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Some of the audience last week in the Thelma Keller Memorial Convention Center might have expected National Rifle Association President Oliver North to speak on gun ownership rights.
Others in the capacity crowd, which included many Republican-elected state and local officials, probably expected North to offer a fire-and-brimstone speech on politics.
But North barely broached either subject during his time at the podium on the evening of July 19 during the political fundraiser for three Republican General Assembly candidates — Blaine Wilhour, Chris Miller and Darren Bailey. He talked about American history, patriotism and instilling values in young people.
It was a pleasant departure from the dog-eat-dog politics that fills events nowadays. North was a political lightning rod 30 years ago during the Iran Contra Hearings before Congress and last week there were protesters outside the Convention Center over his leadership of the NRA.
North, a retired Marine Lt. Col., a television commentator, author and host of a show dedicated to military history, started out talking about the eloquence of the Declaration of Independence. He quoted from letters by John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration, on how the document was a landmark in history.
North, who was a national security adviser for President Ronald Reagan, then spoke about the Gettysburg Address, written and delivered in 1863 by another son of Illinois.
“It is one of the shortest speeches spoken by a politician anywhere and the most powerful,” North said.
North lives in Clarke County, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Many times he has taken his many grandchildren on a walk there. Last week marked the 154th anniversary for the battle of Cool Spring during the Civil War. Part of that battlefield rests on North’s property, so when he is with his grandchildren he is walking them through history.
That battle has a link to Illinois. Col. James Mulligan, an Irishman from Chicago, who commanded the 23rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment that day on July 18, 1864. The battle also included Confederate troops commanded by General Jubal Early.
A few days later, Col. Mulligan died from wounds suffered during the battle of Kernstown. He suffered three separate wounds, while leading his regiment that day, North said.
“That’s why I walk my grandchildren over that ground. That war was about ending human bondage. It took people like Col. Mulligan to eventually end it,” North said.
When his grandchildren turn 14, North gives them boxes containing a Bible, a compass, a detailed map and a 20 gauge shotgun.
“There are some states where you have to be 21 to own a gun, but I think I’m safe for now in Virginia,” North said.
He encouraged parents and grandparents in the audience to teach children the old-fashioned way for tying their shoelaces. He disdained any videos or computer apps for those lessons. Instead, reach down and teach them.
This seems like a simple act, but North noted it has important meaning for Christians.
“It’s like the servitude of Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples,” North said.
North, a decorated Vietnam veteran, showed images on large screens of his visits to Marines in combat zones. He talked about the trust between the Marines and a dog named “Dexter” who sniffed out Improvised Explosive Devices, and his very brave handler, Smitty.
“The idea of ‘I’ve got your back’ is not the slogan of a mattress company,” North said. “There they are kneeling and praying with Dexter and Smitty before they go into combat. The first human off that chopper when it lands is Smitty after Dexter. That is true commitment.”
North said the NRA and his foundation are helping the wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not about charity, either, he said.
“We want to make them part of society when they come back; not victims of something,” North said.
The young men and women of the American military understand the meaning of freedom, just like Col. Mulligan and the Founding Fathers, he said.
“That’s what this election is all about. You should send to office people who understand that value system that makes this country great. When you go to vote this fall, just find one other voter to go with you to the polls,” North said.
When he finished, the crowd gave North a standing ovation with loud cheers. He had taken them on an emotional journey that some did not expect that night.