'Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story' Recalls The Soldiers The Movies Overlooked

Entertainment
A still from 'Black Hawk Down'
Screengrab via Sony Pictures

FORT DRUM — A fierce battle involving Fort Drum soldiers in Somalia began on Oct. 3, 1993, with a radio transmission — “black hawk down.”


The majority of Americans learned about how U.S. and United Nations forces came to the rescue of 99 ambushed U.S. Army Rangers trapped in the streets of Mogadishu through a Hollywood movie and book of the same name.

But filmmaker and retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen says the soldiers from Fort Drum, who fought valiantly in a two-day battle in and above the streets of Mogadishu, never got the credit they deserved.

He’s directed and produced a new documentary that depicts the role 341 10th Mountain Division soldiers — from the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Infantry — played in saving the Rangers during the intense fighting on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, 1993.

“It’s truly the untold story ...” Col. Larsen said. “It was an incredible story.”

By the time it ended on Oct. 4, 18 soldiers were killed and 80 wounded, but the U.S. forces fought their way into Mogadishu to get the members of the Army’s premier infantry unit out, despite heavy gunfire. Two Fort Drum soldiers died during the rescue mission, then the bloodiest firefight since the Vietnam War.

Yet the 10th Mountain Division’s involvement is largely overlooked, even with the popular 2001 Ridley Scott “Black Hawk Down” film and the 1999 book by journalist Mark Bowden.

The new documentary, “Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story,” will make its debut during four showings at Fort Drum and Jefferson Community College on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5.

The Oct. 4 showings at Fort Drum will come on the 25th anniversary of the battle’s second day in 1993.

The retired colonel doesn’t fault director Ridley Scott and his film for failing to tell the 2-14’s involvement in the battle. The film mentions Fort Drum but used composite characters to tell Hollywood’s version of the story.

“I’m not saying anything bad about Ridley Scott,” the colonel said. “It was entertainment.”

He also doesn’t have any problems with Mr. Bowden’s book, which delved into the Fort Drum connection more.

He does have issues with an episode of History Channel’s series “The Real Story of,” which supposedly told the true story behind the film.

“But it never mentioned the 10th Mountain Division a single time,” Col. Larsen said.

His documentary is devoted to the story of soldiers of the 2-14. All the U.S. forces who fought in the Mogadishu streets were heroes, the colonel insisted.

They jumped into armored vehicles, Humvees and troop-transported trucks and drove off into the dark Somalian night into what was considered a do-or-die mission to save the lives of the Rangers who were surrounded by more than 1,000 well-armed hostile forces.

A year before, U.S. soldiers were deployed to Somalia to support a United Nations humanitarian mission to help with a devastating famine.

Without a government in place, militia and clans were fighting among themselves for power, so President George H.W. Bush sent the troops over to help with more than 1 million people starving from the famine.

For the documentary, Col. Larsen, who served in the Army and Air Force for 32 years, interviewed more than 30 soldiers involved in the battle, from enlisted men in the “Task Force 2-14” to senior commanders.

The documentary also is based on numerous written accounts from those involved, command past logs and official after-action reports.

Related: 6 Things You Probably Never Knew About 'Black Hawk Down' »

Ret. Lt. Col. Lee Van Arsdale, a technical adviser for Ridley Scott’s film, appears in ‘The Untold Story.’ A former squadron commander in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, he fought alongside the men of 2-14 during the rescue mission.

Col. Larsen, 70, has produced and directed several other documentaries, including “Operation Whitecoat,” which tells the story of 2,300 non-combat conscientious objectors who served the country during the Cold War.

He also has made documentaries about wounded warriors who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a doctor’s experiences in the summer of 2014 when he worked in a Sierra Leone hospital during the Ebola outbreak and women pilots who served in the Second World War.

Col. Larsen, who began his military career as a 19-year-old Cobra helicopter pilot flying 400 combat missions in Vietnam, is also a Homeland Security expert, serving on several national organizations between 1998 and 2012. He retired from the military in 2000.

Col. Larsen got involved in the Black Hawk project after receiving a phone call last December from an old friend, retired Brig. Gen. William David, who was the commander of the 2-14 during the battle.

Previously, a couple of Southern Illinois University professors were working on a “Black Hawk Down” film project but had some issues getting it market-ready, Gen. David recalled, so he thought that his old friend could help them.

As it turned out, Col. Larsen, who met Gen. David while the two were completing War College scholarships at the University of Pittsburgh several years before, bought the rights to the footage and took over the project.

He’s worked on the film full time for the past nine months.

A still from the trailer of 'Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story'Screenshot YouTube

Former Fort Drum soldier Douglas W. Schmidt, a member of the 2-14 from 2000 to 2003, was brought in by Col. Larsen as an advisor to conduct research on the battle.

“I didn’t know much about it,” he admitted, although he saw the Ridley Scott film several times. “I read every book on Somalia.”

Mr. Schmidt was chosen for his experience as an unofficial Fort Drum historian. He also completed his master’s degree thesis on the 10th Mountain Division’s involvement in Somalia.

He’s proud of the role he played in making sure that Fort Drum soldiers are finally getting their due.

Until he got that call from his friend, Col. Larsen knew little about the Mogadishu event, quickly forging ahead with as much research as he could before starting the project.

“The more I heard, the more I was impressed with their story,” he said.

A convoy of vehicles was sent to retrieve the Rangers after two Black Hawks were shot down. Before the battle began, the Rangers arrested 20 supporters of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a Somali military commander and political leader, while they were conducting a raid in Mogadishu.

Besides being outnumbered and facing heavy fire, the U.S. soldiers called to help were forced to use Malaysian armed personnel carriers. They had never been inside the vehicles, were unaware how they operated and didn’t even know how to open their doors, Col. Larsen said.

“They were white vehicles going into battle at night,” he said, making them easy targets.

While he helped indirectly to get the film made, Gen. David had no interest in “rewriting history” and wouldn’t have minded “on a personal level” if the project didn’t get off the ground.

“I’m very happy that the story will be told for all the soldiers under my command who were never recognized for the actions of what they’ve done,” he said.

“It’ll give them closure,” he added. “It’s for their benefit, not my benefit.”

Gilbert H. Pearsall Jr., human resources director for the Johnson Newspaper Corp. before retiring in 2014, has a connection to the Mogadishu battle.

A retired lieutenant colonel and former Fort Drum soldier, Mr. Pearsall served in Somalia for several months, working at the Quick Reaction Force under Col. Lawrence E. Casper as the liaison to the aviation brigade.

Mr. Pearsall was not directly involved in the fighting. Instead, he helped with the planning of the rescue mission, getting together some sketches of where the Rangers were ambushed. At first, the situation didn’t look so bad for the Rangers, he recalled.

“We had no idea what was going on,” he said, adding they learned later that the Rangers needed help.

He remembered heading to New Port, near the Somalia coast, with then-Lt. Col. David and laying out some maps on a Humvee hood to try to figure out a plan.

Lt. Col. David came up with the route that the convoy should take and Mr. Pearsall went back to Quick Reaction Force headquarters, where he waited to hear more.

He stressed that the story should have been told long ago about the 2-14 and what it did during those two days.

“It’s their story,” he said.

Mr. Schmidt has only seen a rough draft of the documentary, but he believes it’s the film that the 2-14 deserves. Still tinkering with the final cut, Col. Larsen said he’s so happy with the outcome he won’t pursue another film project.

“I couldn’t make a better film,” he said.

Gen. David, who plans to attend all four showings, said he expects as many as 100 former Fort Drum soldiers will be there for the sneak previews.

Retired since 2003, he looks forward to seeing the men he led when they were in their 20s and will now get to find out what their lives are like 25 years later.

Some of them, at the time, might not have realized the significance of the role they played in saving the Rangers during those two days in Mogadishu.

But their story is now being told.

———

©2018 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

Read More Show Less
President Donald Trump speaks during an event with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Pratt Industries, Sunday, Sept 22, 2019, in Wapakoneta, Ohio. (Associated Press/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he discussed Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son in a call with Ukraine's president.

Trump's statement to reporters about his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came as the Democratic leader of a key congressional panel said the pursuit of Trump's impeachment may be the "only remedy" to the situation.

Read More Show Less
"It's kind of like the equivalent of dropping a soda can into canyon and putting on a blindfold and going and finding it, because you can't just look down and see it," diver Jeff Goodreau said of finding the wreck.

The USS Eagle 56 was only five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.

The World War I-era patrol boat split in half, then slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. The Eagle 56 had been carrying a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 13 survivors from the water that day. It was April 23, 1945, just two weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

The U.S. Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to a blast in the boiler room. In 2001, that ruling was changed to reflect the sinking as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by German submarine U-853, a u-boat belonging to Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine.

Still, despite the Navy's effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding the sinking, the Eagle 56 lingered as a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to shore, but efforts to locate the wreck were futile for decades. No one could find the Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.

Then, a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team successfully located the Eagle 56 in June 2018.

Business Insider spoke to two crew members — meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer Donald Ferrara — about their discovery.

Read More Show Less
(CIA photo)

Before the 5th Special Forces Group's Operational Detachment Alpha 595, before 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's MH-47E Chinooks, and before the Air Force combat controllers, there were a handful of CIA officers and a buttload of cash.

Read More Show Less

The last time the world saw Marine veteran Austin Tice, he had been taken prisoner by armed men. It was unclear whether his captors were jihadists or allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad who were disguised as Islamic radicals.

Blindfolded and nearly out of breath, Tice spoke in Arabic before breaking into English:"Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus."

That was from a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 26, 2012, several weeks after Tice went missing near Damascus, Syria, while working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and the Washington Post.

Now that Tice has been held in captivity for more than seven years, reporters who have regular access to President Donald Trump need to start asking him how he is going to bring Tice home.

Read More Show Less