I heard late last night that G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame had passed away at the age of 90. It immediately brought back some of my memories of the man. For those of you that didn’t know, Gordon Liddy had a syndicated radio program on WJFK here in Washington DC for several years. I was honored to be a guest several times.
To say that Liddy was conservative didn’t do him justice. He made no qualms about his political slant. People that tried to disregard him as a convicted felon found that he owned that too. It didn’t faze him. He was outspoken about his views and when a friend turned me onto his show, I found myself tuning in each day.
I don’t hate doing book tours, going on TV and radio to talk about my work. At the same time, I don’t look forward to them either. It was on a book tour that I met Gordon. Liddy had history authors on all of the time which was one of the reasons I liked his show (the other was discussions about guns.) When I began to write military history books, starting with The Cruise of the Sea Eagle, my publicist contacted me and said, “You probably don’t want to do this one, but G. Gordon Liddy wants you on his show.”
I was all over it! This was a chance to meet a historical figure and as a historian, I couldn’t pass it up. Besides, I was a fan of his show. When I was ushered into meet him, I found him imposing – not so much from a stature perspective, but from his presence. I always had the feeling that despite his age, he could kick my ass if he wanted to. He was warm and gregarious, told me before we went on the air that he had read the book – which impressed me. A lot of interviewers (most) don’t actually read the book you are there to talk about – they get a Cliff Notes version from some staffer or ask you to provide questions in advance. Not Liddy, he had a long list.
It is fun to be interviewed by someone that respects your work and I knew I was doing well when Gordon told me he wanted to keep me on for the full hour. On the breaks, he actually started talking to me about my craft – what he liked about my style of writing. He asked about my family, what I did for a real job, personal stuff.
When I was done Gordon asked me to autograph his copy of the book. In other words, he was keeping the book, and that was very cool to me. He and Bill O’Reilly are the only people that have interviewed me that asked for my autograph. When we finished Gordon spent a few minutes with my wife, introducing himself, talking to her. He asked if she brought a camera and if she would take a picture of him and me. He did this every time I was on his show.
Liddy’s grip on history, especially military history, was as firm as his double-handed handshake. He knew his stuff and even told me that after he read one of my books, he read another one on a tangent subject, just so that he could be prepared with better questions. These were not fluff interviews, they were like oral exams with a highly trained professor. Still, he was very polite, so you didn’t feel nervous, but instead had a real conversation about the topic.
I was on Gordon’s show three times, once for Terror of the Autumn Skies, my book on Frank Luke Jr.; and for Lost Eagles, my book on Frederick Zinn and the search for missing airmen. His knowledge of history was impressive as well as his ability to organize and articulate a question.
On my last visit, my father in-law was in town. He was a die-hard liberal and when he found out I was going on Liddy’s show, he cringed. So, I invited him and my son Alex to come along. When we were on break Liddy noticed I had brought ‘an entourage’ and I told him I wanted my son to meet him because of his role in history and I wanted my father in-law to meet him because he was an easily triggered liberal. Liddy grinned devilishly.
When the show was over he came out and insisted on having his photo taken with my father in-law, thanking him for his military service. It totally caught my father in-law off guard, who stood speechless and shook and hand, numb at the courtesy he showed him. He want out of his way to be nice.
Gordon gave me a wink as he returned to the booth…and I got it. He knew people and knew how to control situations like that. The guy was brilliant.
There will be a lot of people today who will scorn Liddy. They will talk about Watergate and his role. Most will gloss over his military service and his time in the FBI. Pundits will want to get in one last smear of him, because that’s what the mainstream media does now. You’ll hear the words ‘felon’ and ‘mastermind of Watergate’ or ‘the man that ultimately took down Richard Nixon.’ They won’t go into the details at all because it is old news and doesn’t fit the current narratives. None will talk about the warmth of the man or his cutting wit and intellect. That falls to me. Gordon was bright, intellectually gifted, and incredibly nice in person. He also did not tolerate bullshit. He was an icon from a different era and made his footprint on history hard, grinding it in deep. Haters are going to hate. Today I will remember the man I knew from the three hours or so of my life I spent with him.