Oliver North

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When Robert Burns penned "Auld Lang Syne" in 1788 and set the poem to the melody of an old Scottish folk tune, he certainly didn't know that it would become the ballad for New Year's Eve celebrations around the globe. One of my grandchildren asked me if it was "a sad song."

I replied that it was "not really sad, but nostalgic -- because it reminds us at year-end of times past, old friends and people who have made a difference in our lives." But afterward, I recalled that during 2008 some people who made a difference in my life left us all.

First, there are the 216 military personnel in Iraq and 133 in Afghanistan who were killed in action or who died of wounds during 2008. Some of them I knew from covering them over the last seven years in both theaters in this war against radical Islam. All of them left grieving families, and all of us should thank God for their sacrifice.

On Feb. 28, William F. Buckley Jr., "the Godfather of American conservatism," died, without a replacement. I read his first book, "God and Man at Yale," while I was a young Marine, and it helped shape my worldview long before I ever met him. He went on to write 50 books -- but devoted his life to founding and publishing National Review, hosting the TV show "Firing Line" and writing a twice-weekly newspaper column, read -- usually with the aid of a dictionary -- in over 300 newspapers. In so doing, he paved the way for other conservative voices in the media.

In 1971, he invited me and two other Marines to appear on television to rebut a slanderous article about Vietnam that Seymour Hersh had published in The New York Times. Hersh was a "no show," but Buckley put us on anyway. We stayed in touch -- and years later, Buckley was kind enough to encourage my own television career, hosting "War Stories" on FOX News Channel.

On April 5, my friend Charlton Heston left us. Like millions of others, I first came to recognize his "chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice" on the silver screen in his Academy Award-winning role in "Ben-Hur," and other classics such as "The Ten Commandments," "Planet of the Apes" and "El Cid."

But his "off-screen" roles made him a friend. In 1992, the man who had once marched with Martin Luther King Jr. joined me in protesting the release of a violent rap song called "Cop Killer." In 1998, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and increased the rolls from 2.5 million to more than 4 million members.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.