Copyright 1993 Newsday, Inc.
December 7, 1993, Tuesday
Full of Tears and Grief; For elite commandos, operation ended
SERIES: MISSION IN SOMALIA. A year ago this wee, the first
U.S. troops sent by President bush arrived in Soalia. It was
to be a humanitarian mission. but htere was a mjor policy change
in August, when Presient Clinton sent in a Special Operations
force to capture the warlord Aidid. This report looks at the
decision and its consquences. THIRD OF 4 PARTS
By Patrick J. Sloyan. WASHINGTON BUREAU. Staff writer Dele
Olojede contributed to this story.
DATELINE: Ft. Benning, Ga.
When it came time to remember the 75th Ranger Regiment's men
killed in Somalia, Chaplain David Moran sought to compare their
sacrifice to the fate of early Christians.
"For your sake, we face death all day long," said
Moran's recitation of a letter from the apostle Paul to the Romans.
"We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
The shaved skulls of the Regiment's Third Battalion bowed
in prayer for six members of Bravo Company during the Nov. 8
ceremony at Ft. Benning. They were among 18 American soldiers
who died Oct. 3 in Mogadishu. Another 77 U.S. Army troops were
wounded. An estimated 300 Somalis were killed and 700 wounded
during the 12-hour firefight.
Moving among the bereaved families was Gen. Wayne Downing,
commander of Special Operations. A covert Delta Force element
of Downing's 47,000-soldier command at Ft. Bragg, N.C., had slipped
into Somalia unannounced. It was made up of Army Special Forces,
the men who wear the Green Beret. From Ft. Campbell, Ky., came
the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment,
reputedly the best helicopter pilots in the world.
But their secrecy was shattered when eight Delta Force members
were killed Oct. 3. Maj. Gen. William Garrison, who directed
Delta's operations in Mogadishu, also expressed condolences to
the families of Rangers who had provided the muscle for the mission.
It was Garrison, in a handwritten letter to U.S. Rep. John
Murtha (D-Pa.), who claimed the Oct. 3 mission was a "complete
success." The Special Operations team had captured 22 supporters
of Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid captured that day - just as planned.
But in geopolitical terms the operation was a disaster. What
the Nov. 8 ceremony showed, more than anything, was the most
painful results of President Bill Clinton's shifting policy decisions
All but two of the Aidid supporters rounded up on Oct. 3 were
released later after Clinton abandoned the hunt for the warlord
as a mistaken policy decision. No one from the administration
attended the memorial for the men who died following Clinton's
secret Aug. 22 order to capture Aidid and bring him to trial.
Clinton considered attending the Fort Benning ceremony, but scheduling
conflicts kept him away, a White House official said.
The elite commando force is often disparaged by Army regulars
who call them "snake-eaters." The nickname stems from
six grueling weeks of Ranger School, including desert and mountain
training as well as jungle survival, where snake meat is considered
Their legendary physical toughness and superb military skills
have created a force that routinely takes risks that seem to
regular soldiers to border on madness. But during the memorial
service, the snake-eaters were full of tears and grief.
On the stage of the Gen. George C. Marshall Auditorium, six
pairs of desert boots were aligned left to right; an upturned
M-16 rifle was bayonetted next to each pair. Each rifle butt
held a black beret with the Ranger regimental crest.
Individual soldiers took turns reciting the Ranger Creed.
The fifth stanza revealed why most of those who died Oct. 3 did
not escape unscathed, as they had during six previous missions:
"I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the
hands of the enemy," the soldier recited.
The words made Ranger Sgt. Robert Gallagher wince.
On Oct. 3 the whitewashed buildings of Aidid's stronghold
were obscured by beige dust from hovering helicopter gunships.
The purr and whump of gunfire and grenades echoed everywhere.
Gallagher explained how 142 Rangers had been on the verge
of a 12-minute drive to safety with 25 prisoners when a Delta
Team helicopter crashed. It was about 4:15 p.m.
Less than an hour earlier the helicopter had been one of six
Blackhawks that dropped 90 Rangers and Delta Force soldiers into
the middle of Aidid's neighborhood near the Olympic Hotel. The
group of Aidid supporters had been captured, and the escape convoy
had pulled into place with another 52 Rangers aboard to provide
But now rescuing the crew of the downed helicopter became
paramount. "We weren't going to leave those guys,"
Gallagher said. From a defensive position near the hotel, Lt.
Tom Di Tomasso saw the Blackhawk crashing four blocks away. With
13 men from his platoon, Di Tomasso immediately began moving
to the crash site.
While Di Tomasso was on foot, most of the Rangers were aboard
armored jeeps - Humvees with bulletproof windshields, doors and
tops - and unarmored trucks. The halting, twisting drive toward
the downed helicopter through a maze of narrow Mogadishu streets
became a bloodbath.
Five of the six Rangers died en route.
"It was like riding around in a shooting gallery,"
said Gallagher, who was wounded while directing his jeep. From
building windows, rooftops, behind walls, Somalis showered them
with automatic gunfire and grenades. With 50-cal. machine guns
and grenade launchers mounted on their jeeps, the Rangers fired
Bands of Somalis filled the streets. A point-blank barrage
of 40-mm grenades was fired into one group by a Ranger jeep commander.
Somali men, women and children were left in a bloody sprawl.
But the withering fire from the Somalis was proving too much.
Even three of the Somali captives aboard one Ranger truck were
killed. The Ranger commander, Lt. Col. Danny McKnight, ordered
the rescue convoy to retreat to its base at the airport. More
casualties were suffered en route. But Di Tomasso's foot patrol
Two snipers aboard the Blackhawk were knocked senseless by
the crash. When they came to, one of them, Delta Team Sgt. Daniel
Busch, 25, of Portage, Wis., began firing at attacking Somalis.
Di Tomasso, whose platoon had reached the crash site, reported
that Busch killed at least 10 before being mortally wounded.
As Di Tomasso's ground force arrived, one of the gunships,
an MH-6 Little Bird helicopter, squeezed into the crash site.
Pilot Karl Maier held the controls with one hand while firing
a submachine gun with the other. His co-pilot, Keith Jones, scrambled
to the downed Blackhawk while firing a pistol. The wounded Busch
and another Blackhawk survivor were loaded on the Little Bird,
and Maier lifted off, guns blazing.
A search and rescue helicopter arrived next, dropping off
15 more Rangers and rescue equipment. That chopper also was hit
by Somali fire but managed to limp back to base.
Inside the downed Blackhawk, the pilot and co-pilot were dead.
They were Chief Warrant Officer Donovan Briley, 33, from North
Little Rock, Ark., and Chief Warrant Officer Clifton Wolcott,
36, from Cuba, N.Y.
They had crashed nose-first into a low wall after Somali rocket-propelled
grenades hit the chopper. Now 29 Rangers set up a defensive perimeter
and began trying to free Briley and Wolcott.
The force of the crash had wrapped the fuselage around the
two men. Circular blades of two rescue power saws failed to cut
through the twisted metal.
Six hours later a relief convoy finally fought its way through
to the crash site. A confused effort to get Malaysian armored
vehicles to carry the relief force had caused the delay. The
U.S. commander, Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, had requested
armored vehicles nearly a month earlier, but his request had
been rejected by Defense Secretary Les Aspin.
On Oct. 3, as reports of the mounting casualties came in,
Montgomery bit his lips and cursed under his breath, said aides
who overheard him. "He clearly felt that this could have
been prevented if he had his own armor," a top aide said.
Running the Somali gauntlet was costly to the relief column.
Three 10th Mountain Division soldiers were killed. More than
30 were wounded.
After the relief convoy arrived, the Rangers attached truck
cables to the wrecked Blackhawk.
"The trucks pulled the helicopter apart, and we got their
bodies," Gallagher said.
A second Blackhawk helicopter had crashed beyond the reach
of the Ranger force and relief convoys. The pilot, Chief Warrant
Officer Michael Durant, later recounted how two Special Forces
sergeants jumped from a hovering helicopter to save him.
They were Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, 33, of Lincoln, Maine,
and SFC Randall Shugart, 35, of Newville, Pa. They were killed
along with three of Durant's crew in fighting around the chopper.
"Without a doubt, I owe my life to these two men and
their bravery," said Durant, who was captured and later
released by the Somalis. Gordon and Shugart have been nominated
for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award
for valor. There will be a shower of Silver Stars, the third-highest
award, for the Rangers.
The memorial ceremony in Marshall Auditorium was coming to
an end. Before three volleys of rifle fire and Taps, Bravo Company
First Sgt. Glenn Harris conducted the Last Roll Call.
There was no answer.
"Sergeant James Joyce?"
"Sergeant James Casey Joyce?"
Finally a friend answered. "Not present, First Sergeant."
The litany continued through five more names. Glenn concluded:
"These men were all killed in combat operations in Somalia."
The ceremony intensified the grief and anger of Larry Joyce
over the loss of his son. Joyce, a retired Army officer who spent
two tours in Vietnam, voted for Clinton and said he had rationalized
away the president's efforts to avoid the draft and his role
as Vietnam War protester.
"My son opposed my support for Bill Clinton," Joyce
said in a letter to Congress. "His death in Somalia - brought
about by weak and indecisive amateurs in the Clinton administration
- confirms my son's wisdom and my naivete."
Along with some of the families of 26 other Americans killed
there since last December, Joyce wants Congress to find out what
went wrong and why Aspin refused to provide armor for the relief
"Those reinforcements might not have helped my son because
he apparently was one of the first killed," Joyce said in
the letter. "But they certainly would have helped many of
the other soldiers who were killed and wounded. To put them into
combat with no way to reinforce them is criminal."
NEXT: The Aftermath
Return to Part 1.| Return to Part 2.|Go
to Part 4.
to NomadNet Front Page