MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- The classical definition of a hero is a person who puts himself at risk for the benefit of others. That certainly describes Adolfo Calero, who died June 2 at the age of 80. The obituaries of this remarkable man hardly do justice to his courage, perseverance, faithfulness and humility. Here is the Adolfo Calero I knew, admired and called a friend for nearly three decades:
A graduate of Holy Cross High School in New Orleans and the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., he was a devout Roman Catholic and educated to be a businessman, not a soldier. But after he was jailed twice by the Somoza regime and then by the Marxist Sandinistas, who overthrew the Nicaraguan dictator in 1979, Calero quietly joined the armed resistance in an effort to liberate his country. Threatened with arrest for anti-regime activities in 1982, he and his family escaped and watched from exile as the Sandinistas seized their property. The following year, he was chosen by his countrymen to lead the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, or FDN. By 1984, it had become the largest insurgent army ever fielded in the Western Hemisphere -- more than 20,000 freedom fighters under arms.
Most of Calero's all-volunteer counterrevolutionaries were poor but fiercely independent farmers and indigenous Christian Miskito, Suma and Rama Indians with no military experience. Destitute and hounded, they fled Sandinista tyranny, Soviet-style "collectivization" and police-state repression for sanctuaries on Nicaragua's borders. I first met Adolfo at one of these encampments early in 1983. While walking among the fighters and their families, he made a passionate, emotional appeal for food, medical support, clothing, shelter and arms to "help these brave people resist the regime in Managua from spreading their 'revolution without frontiers' throughout this hemisphere."
This wasn't just rhetoric for the visiting "gringos." Calero meant it -- and lived it. His integrity, wisdom, steadfast resolve and fidelity to the cause of freedom were crucial to building and sustaining an unprecedented political-military organization committed to a democratic outcome in his homeland. It worked. Despite eight years of on-again, off-again support from the U.S. and other governments, his Contras forced the Soviet bloc/Cuban-supported Sandinistas to the negotiating table and to agree to an internationally supervised secret ballot. Thanks to Adolfo and those he led, the Marxists were defeated in the freest and fairest elections in Nicaraguan history. So great was Calero's credibility among his countrymen that when he asked his soldiers to lay down their arms, they did.
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.