Their victory came at a heavy price. Thousands of his Contras were killed and maimed during their quest for freedom. The long fight also took a heavy toll on Adolfo and his family. From 1983 to 1989, he traveled incessantly to rally political and financial support for his Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance throughout Latin America, to European capitals and to Washington -- home of his most fervent supporters and critics.
Though Calero accepted assurances that his troops would not be abandoned in the field, he asked for a personal audience with the man who had promised to sustain them "body and soul" -- President Ronald Reagan. A private, "off-the-books" White House meeting was arranged in 1985, and during the session, Adolfo gave the president an FDN lapel pin. President Reagan turned to the camera and said, "I'm a Contra, too."
On one occasion in the mid-1980s, I flew to Miami to visit him when he was briefly hospitalized for exhaustion and respiratory distress -- the malady from which he eventually succumbed. But when I arrived, he wasn't in his hospital bed. I found him in a visitors waiting room lecturing a group of obstetricians, pediatricians and nurses -- many of them children of Cuban refugees -- on why they should volunteer to come to Honduras on weekends to treat the families of his anti-communist combatants. His powers of persuasion were such that many of them did just that.
After Congress barred the CIA from assisting the Contras, I accompanied Adolfo on numerous visits to the Contra camps along the Honduras-Nicaragua border. He ignored frequent and credible intelligence about Soviet, Cuban, Sandinista and even Palestinian assassination plots, eschewed an offer of a phalanx of bodyguards and insisted on attending memorial services for his fallen fighters at their bases.
One of my enduring memories of Calero is captured in a photo of him taken at a border camp in 1985, listening to one of his young "column" commanders. Adolfo was then just 54 years old and armed only with a pistol. The image is on the cover of his book "Cronicas de un Contra" ("Chronicles of a Contra"). The work is more than a saga of extraordinary courage and commitment. It also provides the only accurate list of those Adolfo credits with "winning against the communists" -- his field commanders.
In the aftermath of the victory he had forged, Adolfo and his family braved death threats and returned to Nicaragua to rebuild their lives and reclaim their home, though much of the Calero property never was returned. Until his health began to fail early this year, Adolfo remained active in Nicaraguan politics and diplomacy -- and, most importantly, as a forceful, articulate advocate on behalf of his FDN veterans and their families.
The epitaph for the Adolfo Calero I knew ought to read: "He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith."
Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel, the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance, and the author of "American Heroes in Special Operations." To find out more about Oliver North and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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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.
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