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Great Moments—A Personal Perspective on Heroism and Sacrifice

Daniel G. Schilling
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99

(continued from page 2)

I sat in the hanger with another friend, waiting to go back out. We slowly loaded ammunition into magazines for our return to the battle. Little was said between us. We sat silently and gazed at the ammunition as we packed all we could carry. Or we just simply looked off into space. Occasionally, when our eyes would meet, we'd shake our heads and say things like, "Man, I don't want to go back out there." Then we'd return to the task at hand, checking and rechecking gear, considering everything we might need and trying to think of every possible contingency. What choice did we have? Our friends were out there waiting, possibly dying. As unpleasant as the thought of going back into hell was, the reality was that we had to go.  

We went back into the city a few hours later, ready for anything the Somalis would throw at us. The mission was now to retrieve our friends at all cost; any remaining restraint was gone. Any opposition would be met with overwhelming firepower. Back on the streets, my anxiety dissipated, replaced with a fierce determination to get my friends. I had no idea if Tim was alive or dead. I hadn't heard his voice on any of the radio transmissions, but that might not mean anything. Tim was a medic, and chances were that he was busy patching people up, telling the wounded guys everything was going to be OK. Occasionally, I heard the voices of other friends of mine, but never Tim's.  

We fought all through the night, trying to collect all our comrades. In some cases it was hopeless. At the second crash site, only silence remained. I didn't know it at the time, but Durant had been captured and the others had been killed, their bodies later paraded through the streets in gruesome fashion for the world's television viewers by mobs with no respect for the dead.

Shortly after dawn, our now reunited force fell back to a sports stadium occupied by Pakistani troops, the airport being too far from the battle to function as a triage and evacuation site for our injured. We had collected all we could. Exhausted, covered in blood, sweat and dirt, and somewhat dazed, I found Tim among the survivors; but there wasn't time to express our relief at finding each other alive. There were injured to treat and load on helicopters for the ride to our medical facilities. For our dead, it was the beginning of their long, final journey home to their families.  

Also, we still had to get ourselves back to the airport from our Pakistani safe-haven. For some of our troops, it was a two-minute ride by helicopter. For myself and many others, it would be another run in our vehicles through the carnage of the streets. I offered Tim a ride back in my Humvee, and to my surprise he accepted. We rode to the airport together in the open back of the last vehicle in the convoy, just the two of us, tense and ready. Ours was the last vehicle to roll into the airport. It was noon the next day; we had been fighting for nearly 20 hours.  

Eighteen of America's finest soldiers lost their lives and 73 more were wounded in that terrible battle, and Durant would remain a prisoner of war for 11 days. The toll we exacted on the Somalis was far worse. Conservative estimates put the number of Somali dead at 500, with another 750 to 1,000 wounded.  

From a military standpoint, the battle was an incredible victory. Politically it was anathema. Amid public outcry, the Clinton administration ceased all operations in Somalia from that day forward. The entire task force was redeployed three weeks later without achieving its goal of capturing Mohamed Aidid. The events surrounding Task Force Ranger and its aftermath have influenced U.S. foreign policy ever since. In today's complex and nebulous international order, the mantra among U.S. foreign policy makers is: "Remember Somalia."  

We smoked a cigar the next evening, Tim and I. The ocean breeze was there, the temperature comfortable, the sunset a bright crimson. But something had changed, for me at least. I no longer looked at my life the same; yet it defied definition.  

I think of those 18 men from time to time. They are examples of the best this country can produce. Men who should be remembered by all Americans. They were paid little, and endured long separations from their families and brutal living conditions, without say as to what they did or where they went. But go they did. These men excelled in an art few men ever attempt, let alone master. They were, and still are, America's best.  

I've since left the service to pursue other endeavors, but Tim chose to stay. We talk often, sometimes sharing a drink and a cigar over the phone. We share a bond that only those who have gone before us in the hell that is combat can understand.   I take a day away from work every October 3rd and sequester myself at my local VFW post, where I think, and write, and smoke. When I reflect on the greatest men I shall ever know, it sometimes gives me pause that this country should be so blessed to have men like these. And that they should be so easily forgotten. They are out there today, Tim and the others, defending you and me, ensuring that our freedom is upheld.  


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