It was supposed to be a tribute to the American soldiers who fought and died for their country 20 years ago this week in Somalia during the infamous “Black Hawk Down” operation. But outside of a quiet gathering of veterans of that deadly incident, the public has not been able to see the Army’s brand new “Battle of Mogadishu” exhibit, which was scheduled to open today at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in North Carolina, thanks to the political mess playing out in Washington.
Despite the notable anniversary, the museum, like so many other government buildings, is closed until further notice as part of the nationwide federal shutdown, according to a notice posted on the museum foundation’s website.
The museum planned to make a small exception Thursday to host a gathering of Black Hawk Down veterans — former Army Rangers, helicopter pilots and other special operations personnel who were on the operation as well as their friends and family, according to an attendee. But it’s unclear when the general public will be allowed to get a fresh look at what those men fought so hard for.
“We are disappointed that the hard work and the accomplishment of the Army staff in the building of this exhibit… We’re just disappointed that we’re closed,” said Paul Galloway, the Executive Director of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation, which supports the Army’s museum. “We’re looking forward to the time that we’re open to the public so they can see the exhibit. This exhibit is going to be worth seeing.”
The Oct. 3, 1993 mission was to “snatch” two top lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid from a building in Mogadishu – the center of violence in war-torn Somalia populated by countless armed civilians and militia members. The mission, though ultimately successful, went awry when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down over the city and American troops were pinned down in several attempted rescues. With gunfire crackling around them almost non-stop, the dozens of soldiers stayed in the city overnight until reinforcements arrived on Oct. 4. In the end, 18 American soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded.
Despite graphic news coverage at the time that included a video of an American corpse being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the incident was later relatively forgotten by the general public until military author Mark Bowden released a detailed, best-selling book on the incident called “Black Hawk Down,” which in turn inspired the 2001 Hollywood film of the same name.
A former Ranger who was on the mission and asked not to be named told ABC News that even two decades later, some images from that mission are etched permanently in his mind.
“I was absolutely terrified, scared for my life… I remember thinking that if something happens, I hope I can look up to the blue sky before I pass away,” he said. “At some point a little bit later [during the mission], I kind of made peace with the fact that I was going to die that day. To me, every day of life since has been a gift.”
The soldier said that though his long military career in special operations would take him to different battlegrounds and other tight spots around the world, he said Mogadishu was the most afraid he’s ever been.
Former Ranger Jeff Struecker, who was also on the mission, recently returned to Mogadishu as part of a new documentary on the battle and the soldiers who lived through it.
He too told ABC News’ “Power Players” he thought to himself that day, “I know I am going to die.”
“When I went back there this spring and turned the corner into the Bakaara Market, immediately the emotions, the smells, the thoughts from Mogadishu came flooding back like I was just there yesterday,” the former Ranger told Matthew Dowd for ABC News’ “This Week.”
Galloway said he, like so many others, will be watching Washington to see when the museum may finally open its doors once again. “I hate to say it will be worth the wait,” he said, “but it will.”
An Army spokesperson declined to comment on the museum’s closing.
For more information on the new exhibit, CLICK HERE to visit the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation’s website.