Delta Force sniper who died protecting comrades receives new grave marker
CARLISLE — The granite slab marking Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart's grave in Westminster Cemetery tells the world what he did for his comrades during a firefight in Mogadishu, Somalia.
His Army Special Forces brothers waited two decades for that special recognition.
Shughart, a Delta Force sniper with Task Force Ranger, was armed with his rifle and a pistol when he and his team leader volunteered to protect four critically wounded troops on one of two U.S. helicopters shot down by Somali militia and armed civilians on Oct. 3, 1993.
The rescue operation was part of an overnight standoff that left 18 Americans dead, including Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon of Lincoln, Maine.
The battle between the Army's elite force and Somalis loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid inspired a book and Hollywood film, “Black Hawk Down.”
Shughart, who grew up on a dairy farm in the nearby borough of Newville, was 35 when he was killed. He was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor.
Helicopter pilot Michael Durant, the sole survivor of Shughart and Gordon's rescue attempt, told the Tribune-Review he tries to never diminish their sacrifice.
“That I might live to make him proud, and live up to his memory, is the best honor I can give back,” Durant said from his home in Huntsville, Ala.
On Thursday, more than 300 people — soldiers and some of Shughart's family and friends — attended a moving but understated ceremony to honor his bravery. They revealed the marker, which replaced a small, often-overlooked headstone.
Patriot Guard motorcylists stood at attention beside American flags, and Boy Scouts placed small flags on veterans' graves.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commandant of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, spoke of “the bond of trust that is a key element of the uniquely American spirit.”
“All of you present today are a symbol of this commitment and this fighting spirit,” he said. “… You will not let Randy or his actions be forgotten.”
Shughart's wife, Stephanie, attended a larger event marking the 20th anniversary of the battle at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, said his cousin, Chas Finkenbinder.
Finkenbinder said he looked up to Shughart when they were kids.
“We worked very hard so that no one ever forgets, not just him but every service member,” Finkenbinder said.
The marker — fittingly made of tough, durable stone — is engraved with Shughart's Medal of Honor citation. A bench bears a family quote from Stephanie Shughart: “It takes a remarkable person to not just read a creed, but to live it.”
Members of the military raised the $8,500 needed for a prominent memorial.
“It was all done through donations from service members across the country, as well as regular folks and businesses,” said Thomas Kelley, president of Randall Shughart Chapter 64 of the Special Forces Association.
“It was built to honor his extraordinary life and service, and the high character and values by which he served this nation,” Kelley said.
The 160-member Task Force Ranger team included Air Force Pararescuemen, Army Rangers, Combat Controllers, Delta Force operators, Navy SEALs and a Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Their mission was to apprehend Aidid, a former general and diplomat accused of genocide, as trucks were being loaded with captured Somali combatants. The insurgents began firing rocket-propelled grenades, downing two Black Hawk helicopters that circled in support.
Durant was trapped in his cockpit with two broken femurs and a broken back.
Shughart and Gordon, crew members in another helicopter, twice requested and were refused permission to drop in for a rescue mission, Durant said.
“The third time, the commander relented,” he said.
The two men pulled Durant from the chopper, holding off gunfire until their ammunition ran out. They killed dozens of enemy combatants before they were killed.
“Somewhere, they must have known they would die to save me,” Durant said.
Astonishingly, Durant said, the Somalis did not kill him. They held him captive for 11 days. He wrote a gripping account of the experience, “In the Company of Heroes.”
The Medal of Honor award on May 23, 1994, made Gordon and Shughart the only snipers to receive the high honor and the first since the Vietnam War, said retired Brig. Gen. Dick Potter, who helped organize the Carlisle event.
Potter, 75, was deputy command officer of the Army's Special Command Operations. He and Shughart crossed paths several times.
“We are a tight-knit band of brothers,” he said. “I believe that Americans should think of Shughart — and every soldier out there — every day of their lives.”
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.