COLUMBIA — Fellow war veterans, fans and family of those currently serving in the armed forces gathered on Tuesday night at Conversation Auditorium at MU to hear what has become an iconic story of courage, camaraderie and the mission to never leave a man behind.
Sgt. Matt Eversmann, one of the heroes who inspired the movie Black Hawk Down, visited MU in observance of Veterans Day on Wednesday to speak on his experience as a U.S. Army Ranger. While Eversmann’s 21-year military career took him all over the globe, it was the Black Hawk Down mission during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia that drew the most attention.
On Oct. 3, 1993, what was intended to be a quick mission to capture lieutenants of the Somali army turned into a dire rescue mission in the middle of enemy territory. After two Black Hawk helicopters were gunned down, American soldiers were overcome by armed civilians and forced to fight for their survival. After 18 hours of combat and strategy, 18 American lives were lost, as well as the lives of an estimated 700 Somali citizens. Eversmann, the leader of that combat group, lived to tell the story.
After Mogadishu, Eversmann continued to serve while developing a passion for using his experiences to reinforce values traditionally learned in the military. At the risk of sounding too “Dr. Phil-ish,” he encourages his audiences to understand the great freedoms Americans have, such as education opportunities for men and women and pursuing dreams and personal goals.
Before the lecture, Eversmann spent time signing books, namely “Black Hawk Down” and “The Battle of Mogadishu,” about his experience in Somalia. MU graduate student Tony Klenke, who serves in the National Guard, brought a copy of both. After serving in Korea, Klenke has a deeper appreciation for what happened to the soldiers in Somalia.
“I remember when (Black Hawk Down) happened and seeing the bodies dragged through the streets on the news,” Klenke said. “It was presented as ‘we failed, we got our butts kicked.’ After I enlisted, I realized there were problems with the mission, but what was remarkable was there were 100 (American) men standing up against 1500 (Somalis).”
For Kathy Sharp of Columbia, getting her book signed was a moment only a mother can understand. After hearing of Eversmann’s story, Sharp's son Joshua Ben, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, decided to enlist.
He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 where insurgents attacked his Humvee. Ben survived, but due to his injuries, he will now live without his right leg. He is currently recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. and is testing prosthetic legs to improve his walking ability.
As Sharp struggled to hold back tears, she approached Eversmann to sign the books so she could send them to Ben.
“His birthday is coming up, and he has been inspired by the story of this battle,” Sharp said.
Later, audience members filled nearly every seat in the large auditorium to listen to Eversmann's stories from the battlefield. Through vivid descriptions of tactical operations and the heat of battle, he referenced three values: selfless service, courage and commitment.
"Do the right thing always; do the noble cause," Eversmann said. "There's no middle ground."
Eversmann mixed humorous stories of being confused with Josh Hartnett, the actor who depicted him in the movie, with accounts of desperation and disbelief during battle.
"You couldn't dream this kind of stuff up during training," he said. "But they stayed there and fought until they were overwhelmed by the enemy, protecting their own guys."
At the end of the lecture, he gave recognition to those currently serving in the armed forces:
"What's so great about them is that these are folks like you and me. They don't change in phone booths or wear S's on their chests. They are our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They just have an incredible amount of heart."