North was born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 7, 1943. He is the son of Ann Theresa (née Clancy) and Oliver Clay North, a U.S. Army major. He grew up in Philmont, New York, and graduated from ckawamick Central High School in 1961. He attended the State University of New York at Brockport for two years.
While at Brockport, North spent a summer at the United States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and gained an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1963. He received his commission as second lieutenant in 1968 (he missed a year due to injuries from an auto accident). One of North's classmates at the Academy was future secretary of the Navy and U.S. senator Jim Webb, whom he beat in a championship boxing match at Annapolis. Their graduating class included Dennis C. Blair, Michael Mullen, Charles Bolden and Michael Hagee.
North served as a platoon commander during the Vietnam War, where during his combat service, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal, and two Purple Heart medals. At the time of his Silver Star, Second Lieutenant North was a Platoon Commander leading his Marines in Operation Virginia Ridge. North led a counter assault against the North Vietnamese Army, as his platoon took on heavy machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. Throughout the battle, North displayed "courage, dynamic leadership and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger". He then became an instructor at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.
In 1970, North returned to South Vietnam to testify at the trial of LCpl Randy Herrod, a U.S. Marine formerly under his command who had been charged with the mass killing of Vietnamese civilians. North was promoted to captain in 1971 and served as the commanding officer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.
After his duty in Okinawa, North was assigned for four years to Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. He was then promoted to major and served two years as the operations officer of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, commanded by then Lt. Col. John Southy Grinalds, 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune at Jacksonville, North Carolina. He attended the Command and Staff Course at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and graduated in 1981.
North began his assignment to the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington, D.C., where he served as the deputy director for political-military affairs from 1981 until his reassignment in 1986. In 1983, North received his promotion to lieutenant colonel, which would be his last.
During his tenure at the NSC, North managed a number of missions. This included leading the hunt for those responsible for the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing that killed 299 American and French military personnel, an effort that saw North arranging a midair interception of an EgyptAir jet carrying those responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking. While also at the NSC, he helped plan the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the 1986 Bombing of Libya.
During his trial, Oliver North spent his last two years on active duty assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in Arlington, Virginia. He resigned his Marine Corps commission in 1990 following his indictment for conspiring to defraud the United States by channeling the profits from US arms sales to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
In the 1994 election, North unsuccessfully ran for the United States Senate as the Republican Party candidate in Virginia. Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia endorsed Marshall Coleman, a Republican who ran as an independent, instead of North. North lost by a 46 percent to 43 percent margin to incumbent Democrat Charles Robb, a son-in-law of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Coleman received 11%. North's candidacy was documented in the 1996 film A Perfect Candidate.
In his failed bid to unseat Robb, North raised $20.3 million in a single year through nationwide direct-mail solicitations, telemarketing, fundraising events, and contributions from major donors. About $16 million of that amount was from direct mail alone. This was the biggest accumulation of direct-mail funds for a statewide campaign to that date, and it made North the top direct-mail political fundraiser in the country in 1994.
North has written several best-selling books including Under Fire, One More Mission, War Stories–Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mission Compromised, The Jericho Sanction, and The Assassins.
His book American Heroes was released nationally in the United States on May 6, 2008. In the book, "North addresses issues of defense against global terrorism, Jihad, and radical Islam from his firsthand perspective as a military officer and national security advisor and current Middle East war correspondent." He writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column through Creators Syndicate.
On November 5, 2013, North's new book, American Heroes on the Homefront, was released. This is a nonfiction book that gives a firsthand account of the American volunteers who have volunteered to join the United States Army. The book was a collection from the dozen years North and the Fox News Channel have traveled the frontlines of the War on Terror. During those years North and his team have profiled hundreds of soldiers and chronicles what it means to be a hero. In the book he continues the journey by following these soldiers from the battlefield back to the home front.
North is a board member in the NRA and appeared at NRA national conventions in 2007 and 2008.
In 1990, North founded the Freedom Alliance, a 501(c)(3) foundation "to advance the American heritage of freedom by honoring and encouraging military service, defending the sovereignty of the United States, and promoting a strong national defense." The foundation's primary activities include providing support for wounded combat soldiers and providing scholarships for the sons and the daughters of service members killed in action.
In 1967, North married Betsy Stuart and they have four children. Although raised in the Roman Catholic faith of his mother, North has long attended Protestant or evangelical services with his wife and children.