There are few military servicemen who have received the Medal of Honor and had their actions portrayed in a Hollywood movie. Two are Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart. While their heroic actions during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia resulted in their deaths, they efforts allowed for the rescue of a fellow soldier.
Master Sergeant Gary Gordon
In December 1986, Gordon volunteered to join the 1st Special Operational Detachment-Delta (1SFOD-D), better known as Delta Force. As a Delta operator, he advanced to Team Sergeant. During his service, he participated in such missions as Operation Just Cause and the Persian Gulf War.
Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart
Randall Shughart was a US Army Delta Force soldier. Born into a US Air Force family, he joined the Army while in high school. After completing basic training, he successfully finished infantry advanced individual training (AIT).
In 1978, he was assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Lewis, Washington. Several months later, he completed the pre-ranger course, obtained a spot at Ranger School and earned his Ranger Tab. While he entered into the Army Reserve in 1980, he returned to active duty in December 1983.
After completing Special Forces training, Shughart was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and assigned to Delta Force. As a Delta Force operator, he advanced to Assistant Team Sergeant.
Heroics during the Battle of Mogadishu
In 1993, Somalia was ravaged by civil war, which destroyed the country’s agriculture. The United Nations tried to aid with the resulting famine, but its food rations were seized by local warlords. As such, the US Army sent in its Special Forces to protect the humanitarian efforts and prevent the continued rise of the warlords.
Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart were deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia as part of Task Force Ranger. On October 3, 1993, they engaged in Operation Gothic Serpent, a joint-force assault mission to apprehend key advisers to Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a Somali warlord. It was intended to last an hour, but ended up extending into the next day.
During the mission, a Black Hawk helicopter (Super Six-One) providing air support was shot down. While a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) team went to secure it, a second – Super Six-Four – was also downed. Engaged in combat with Aidid’s militia, the Ranger forces on the ground were unable to assist.
Gordon wanted to assist the helicopter, but his request was denied. Mission commanders felt it too dangerous and believed the snipers would be of more assistance in the air. Undeterred, Gordon repeated his request until it was granted. He and Shughart were lowered to the ground, while their comrade Sergeant First Class Brad Halling stayed aboard to man a machine gun.
The pair landed 100 meters south of the crashsite and, armed with sniper rifles and pistols, fought their way to the downed Black Hawk. Of the four man crew, only Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant survived, suffering a crushed vertebra and comminuted fracture to his left femur.
Gordon and Shughart lost their lives in the assault. While it’s believed Gordon was the first to die, the official version states it was Shughart. It was later reported Durant initially misidentified who was killed first, but did not wish to change the official record.
Both men’s bodies were recovered. Shughart was buried in Carlilse, Pennsylvania and Gordon in Penobscot County, Maine.
Medal of Honor recipients
For their efforts during the Battle of Mogadishu, Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. They were the only service members participating in Operation Gothic Serpent to receive the award, and were its first recipients since the Vietnam War.
The ceremony was presided over by President Bill Clinton and attended by the families. Speaking about the pair’s heroic efforts in Somalia, Clinton said:
“Gordon and Shughart knew their own chances of survival were extremely bleak. The pilot of their helicopter said that anyone in their right mind would never have gone in, but they insisted on it because they were comrades in danger, because they believed passionately in the creed that says, ‘I will not fail those with whom I serve.’
“Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart died in the most courageous and selfless way any human being can act,” he concluded. “They risked their lives without hesitation.”
The USNS Gordon and the USNS Shughart
In 1996, the US Navy held a ceremony in Newport News, Virginia, during which it named the roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Gordon. It was second ship to undergo conversion from a commercial container vessel to a Large Medium Speed Roll-On/Roll-Off (LMSR) sealift ship.
The ceremony was attended by Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) and Carmen Gordon, the master sergeant’s widow. The USNS Gordon is currently operated by the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command in Washington, D.C.
The same honor was bestowed upon Randall Shughart a year later, when the roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Shughart was named in a ceremony at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego. In attendance were a number of Navy officials and politicians, including Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and John W. Douglass.
The USNS Shughart is currently the lead ship in her class, and is capable of carrying 48 track vehicles, 58 tanks, and over 900 trucks and other wheeled vehicles.