Those who lived through the Black Hawk Down incident tell their stories in The Battle of Mogadishu: Firsthand Accounts From the Men of Task Force Ranger and In the Company of Heroes. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Sunday, Oct. 3, marks the 28th anniversary of Operation Gothic Serpent, the 18-hour firefight in downtown Mogadishu, Somalia, that claimed the lives of 19 Americans and wounded more than 70 others. The 1993 battle was one of the bloodiest days in special operations history and can be considered a turning point for America’s most elite units.
Journalist Mark Bowden’s book, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War — and its film adaptation, Black Hawk Down — immortalized the critical gunfight, but Black Hawk Down only captures a third-person perspective. Here are two books about the battle written by the people who were there.
The Battle of Mogadishu is a collection of first-person accounts from the men of Task Force Ranger. It’s Black Hawk Down told by the men who fought the battle. Kicking off the collection of six short narratives is a chapter by Matt Eversmann, an Army Ranger and leader of Chalk Four during the battle, who was portrayed by Josh Hartnett in the 2001 film.
Eversmann’s chapter, titled “Operation Gothic Serpent,” describes the Rangers’ role in the battle and how his chalk reacted to incurring the first casualty of the battle. The Rangers fast-roped into the action and immediately found themselves under fire. Eversmann’s descriptions of urban combat create a visceral sense of the chaos on the ground and the Ranger’s classic response: violence of action. Eversmann illuminates the tenacity of his elite soldiers and their refusal to give up on the mission or their comrades.
This collection is also unique in that it contains the stories of service members from units largely left out of Black Hawk Down. The final chapter, titled “On Friendships and Firefights,” is written by Dan Schilling, a retired Air Force Special Tactics officer who fought in the battle as part of the elite 24th Special Tactics Squadron. Despite being left out of the popular film for clarity, the airmen’s contribution was critical to the recovery of wounded service members and the coordination of aircraft. Schilling describes the confusion the firefight projected on the ground convoy and the way those who were fighting from cramped — and mostly unarmored — vehicles found a way to persevere.
The widely varying vantage points of the six contributors paint a much broader view of the fighting and add clarity to the often-confusing urban brawl, making The Battle of Mogadishu a necessary follow-up to Black Hawk Down.
The Battle of Mogadishu is often referred to simply as “Black Hawk Down” after the book and movie, which derived their names from a radio transmission announcing the crash of the first UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to go down in the battle. Michael Durant piloted Super Six-Four, one of two aircraft to be shot down on Oct. 3, 1993. Durant survived the crash but was captured by militants of the Somali National Alliance and held captive for 11 days before finally being released to the United States.
Durant recounts the harrowing story of the mission and his captivity in his book In the Company of Heroes. Durant served in the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The 160th SOAR piloted 16 aircraft during the fight, and Durant’s account provides a bird’s-eye view of the first half of the fight. He was also the only American to witness the heroic deeds of Army snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, who volunteered to be inserted near Durant’s crash site, where they died protecting him. For their heroic actions, both men were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the first recipients since the Vietnam War.
Durant recounts the actions of those he fought alongside with obvious pride. His description of Shughart and Gordon harkens back to the stories of George Armstrong Custer and Leonidas. Durant’s tale of captivity and his description of the snipers’ last stand make In the Company of Heroes a must-read for anyone interested in Black Hawk Down.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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