FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- It was a gentle rebuke while I stood in line to pay for a cup of coffee at a truck stop just off Interstate 95 a few miles from Fort Bragg: "You folks in the media have a hard time getting things right, don't you?"
"How's that?" I responded to the bearded gentleman behind me. I had seen him dismount from the cab of a Peterbilt over-the-road, long-haul 18-wheeler. He looked to be about my age and was wearing a gray T-shirt emblazoned with one word: "Army."
"You're Ollie North," he said, acknowledging that my sunglasses and a black "Fox News" baseball hat weren't much of a disguise.
He introduced himself as a U.S. Army veteran of the war we had shared four decades ago in Vietnam. He kindly noted that I had been embedded with his son's unit in Afghanistan, and as we exited the restaurant, he got to the nature of his complaint. Pointing to a newspaper vending machine on the sidewalk, he said: "That headline, 'Afghanistan Now Longest U.S. War,' is wrong. And I've been hearing the same thing on the radio for the past 500 miles. Anybody who thinks Afghanistan is our longest war doesn't know history, and that means we're doomed to repeat it. I've crisscrossed the Trail of Tears a couple of dozen times with this rig. My great-great-grandfather fought the Apach'es for better than 20 years. And Afghanistan is nothing like Vietnam. You set 'em straight, Colonel."
I replied, "Roger that," and with his challenge ringing in my ears, we shook hands, mounted our metal steeds and rode off in different directions.
It didn't take much research in readily available archives to confirm that my truck driver historian was right about Afghanistan's not being America's longest war. The U.S. Army's campaigns against Geronimo, Cochise and other Apache leaders in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas went on continuously for nearly 40 years. Though Afghanistan has surpassed Vietnam in duration, it isn't even our longest foreign military engagement. That distinction belongs to U.S. military operations during the Philippine Insurrection -- which began concurrently with the end of the Spanish-American War, in 1898, and lasted until 1913. Notably, the number of U.S. casualties suffered in the Philippines -- more than 7,100 -- is approximately the same as the number of U.S. casualties to date in Afghanistan.
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.