CARLISLE, Pa. -- Twenty years ago Thursday, two Black Hawk helicopters spectacularly crashed in the streets of the war-torn capital of Somalia, touching off a battle so barbaric that it tested America's resolve in providing future humanitarian aid operations in war zones.
The only Pennsylvanian to die that day was remembered Thursday in an anniversary ceremony at his final resting place here.
Staff Sgt. Randall Shughart was among the Army Special Operations troops providing sniper fire from the lead helicopter during a mission to apprehend advisers to the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid when they saw the other aircraft go down.
With wounded men on the ground, the pilot of Shughart's aircraft challenged orders to turn back. Finally given the go-ahead, the soldiers went in armed only with M-14s and sidearms. In the fighting that ensued, Shughart managed to grab a rifle from a dead soldier to give to a wounded comrade who would be captured but survive. When Shughart ran out of ammunition, he fended off rebels in hand-to-hand combat before he was shot and killed. He was 35.
For his actions, Shughart was awarded the Medal of Honor. The battle that left 18 Americans dead and 79 wounded was chronicled in the series "Black Hawk Down" by then-Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden, and the story became a major film.
Shughart was remembered Thursday at the dedication of a memorial at his gravesite, several miles from Newville, the farming community where his family lived.
Hundreds of people, including officers from the Army War College here, veterans, and dozens of members of Shughart's family were on hand to pay their respects and see the granite bench and stone monument with his Medal of Honor inscription carved on it.
The idea came together quickly this summer when fellow Special Operations veterans decided that Shughart needed a more fitting memorial than the plain grave marker at Westminster Cemetery.
"He is an icon," said Tom Kelley, president of the Special Operations Association of Carlisle. "He represents who we are."
Kelley said veterans and others who had traveled to Carlisle to pay their respects and leave tributes could not find the grave.
Shughart is buried not far from the dairy farm in the Cumberland Valley where his father settled following his career in the Air Force. His cousin Charles Finkenbinder, one of 30 family members who attended the ceremony, said Shughart may have traveled to hot spots around the world, but loved the quiet life on the farm.
Col. Matthew Q. Dawson, director of the Army Heritage and Education Center at the Army War College, spoke about the 1992 famine and civil war that left as many as 500,000 Somalis dead and how President George H.W. Bush directed Operation Restore Hope in an attempt to bring a measure of peace to the country and food to its starving population. He told of how President Bill Clinton was forced to pull troops out in March 1993, just six months after the battle, with the nation horrified by images of a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo, commandant of the Army War College, remembered Shughart as one in a long line of American military heroes willing to "walk up the mountain, through the valley, and down the road for a fellow soldier."
The monument, he said, "is a tangible symbol of selfless bravery."