~His storied career encompassed much more than Watergate~
Legendary talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy died recently at age 90. Remembered by some for his often misunderstood role in the Watergate affair, he lived a remarkable life, much of it shrouded forever in secrecy.
(Image of G. Gordon Liddy courtesy of Radio Link)
What you may have seen in the media, heard on his show or read in his best-selling autobiography “WILL” comprise but a glimpse of his experiences, and even after a decade as his executive producer, sidekick and aide de camp, I am left with as many questions as answers.
A few years ago, for instance, I wanted to buy Mr. Liddy a unique gift, a Special Operations Association special edition .45ACP 1911 handgun, because I knew he was proud of (what I thought was) his honorary membership in the SOA.
One must do such things by the book, however, and I wondered whether it would be entirely kosher for me to present such an elegant piece to an honorary member. So I telephoned the SOA president, who said, “It’s a good question, Franklin. But Mr. Liddy is a full member, not an honorary member.”
“But,” I replied, “he was in the FBI and Treasury, sure, and an officer during the Korean War, but only CIA Special Operatives and elite Special Forces unit members can become members.”
“Gordon is way beyond fully, formally qualified for full membership in the SOA. That’s all I can say,” the president told me. He then reminded me that while he appreciated my taste in guns, I was in fact knowingly and willingly planning to purchase a firearm for transport across state lines for delivery to a convicted felon. I opted for a different gift.
Had I known the depth of G. Gordon’s background I wouldn’t have been so surprised when, a few years earlier, fifty Marines turned up to meet him at a rifle range in Iraq. He accepted their challenge to put a group of shots on target at a hundred yards. They wanted to see just how sharp the G-Man really was.
The rifles were RPKs, variants of the Kalashnikov AK-47. He and I lay prone and sighted our targets while the Marines looked on.
The rifles had iron sights (no scopes) and at that range the front sight blades nearly covered up the targets. I’m a seasoned shot, but a tight group with this weapon seemed utterly impossible for me at that distance – much less, I thought, for a septuagenarian who’d left his glasses back in the Humvee.
So I fired a short volley at my own target, and two more, surreptitiously, at his. The Marines followed us downrange to check our performance. As I stared at the mess I had made of my own paper, with holes scattered about, I heard Gordon’s familiar growl: “Frrrrrr-anklin!”
I looked up. His target had ten neat holes in a tight group right at the center – his shots – and a mess of my own in distant orbit. Everyone had a good laugh, and we all learned there are no circumstances in which it is advisable to underestimate G. Gordon.
Few civilians knew about any of these exploits. Those who served our country often knew much more.
Not long after 9/11/2001, the two of us returned to JFK Airport from Kuwait, arriving at 5:30 am on one of those soft, foggy mornings so particular to New York, especially when the growing energy of the sky, of industry and of the people around you become palpable. We found some decent coffee and approached Customs.
A tough-looking officer at the booth sleepily took G. Gordon’s passport without looking up. I watched as he flipped backward through the stamps. Falling on the front page, his eyes widened. After a time, he looked up at Gordon.
Suddenly, this imposing man’s face lit up with a happy, almost child-like expression. “No!” he exclaimed. After a long pause, Gordon simply replied, “Yes.”
The officer closed the passport, eyes still on Gordon. His expression darkened but he was still smiling. “Mr. Liddy, I don’t know what you were doing out there in the Middle East, and frankly, I don’t think I want to know. But I sure am glad you’re back. Welcome to New York, sir. Welcome home.”
Charitable, dutiful, true to his religion, and of course intensely loyal, G. Gordon also had the sharpest, most captivating and affectionate sense of humor of anyone I have ever known.
G. Gordon Liddy didn’t simply survive; he prevailed. He is now reunited with his extraordinary wife, Frances, where he has long wished to be. When we recall the times we were privileged to accompany him, those who knew Gordon are left with a sense of delight, inspiration, and mystery.
Franklin Raff was a friend and executive producer for G. Gordon Liddy at Radio America.