Black Hawk Down Heroes Recall the Battle

Twenty years later, the man who inspired Ridley Scott’s iconic film gives a riveting account of the battle.

Scott Henrichsen/The Daily Beast

Ever wondered what it’s like to be in battle? Of course you have. Well, it’s like this: "I remember sitting there on this moving Humvee sitting on top of somebody else, lying on my back, unable to sit up because of the weight of my body armor like a turtle and literally you know bullets flying over and thinking my gosh this is really gonna hurt, I hope it doesn't hurt that badly."

That was First Sergeant Matt P. Eversmann, US Army (ret.), talking about what it was like for those harrowing two days in Mogadishu, Somalia 20 years ago this month during the raid that we’ve all come to know as Black Hawk Down.

It was the heaviest US military engagement since Vietnam at the time, and it was clear from the moment it happened that it would be immortalized. Not because it was a great victory. It wasn’t: The United States lost 19 men and two state-of-the-art Black Hawk helicopters to an extremely irregular and ragtag force under the Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid. But it was the heroism of the Rangers and other soldiers who risked it all to rescue fallen comrades that vaulted the raid up to the level of the folkloric. There was Mark Bowden’s book, and then Ridley Scott’s film based on it, and in their genres, both became almost instantly canonical.

The film is told largely from the point of view of Eversmann, who appeared on the “Black Hawk Down: 20 Years Later” panel at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, held this morning in Washington at the Mellon Auditorium. The panel was moderated by The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman and also featured former Army Brigadier General Craig Nixon, who participated in the rescue mission, and Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the Scott film.

When the first aircraft went down, Nixon said, they had a contingency plan, and they started putting it into place. “But when the second aircraft went down,” he recalled, “we did not have a plan.” They put together a “quick reaction force” to go in and try to rescue the survivors, but calling it a carefully assembled force was a bit of a stretch. “It was cooks,” Nixon said. “It was anybody who could carry a rifle.”

Bruckheimer shed some interesting light on the filming of the movie, which was shot in Morocco. At the time, he recalled, the United States was between ambassadors, and the charge d’affaires wasn’t entirely cooperative. The film crew had trouble getting Black Hawk Helicopters into the country, and given that the film was about Black Hawk helicopters, that was kind of a problem. It was Jesse Helms of all people who called the King of Morocco to arrange the entry of the helicopters into the country.

But the focus today was on Eversmann and Nixon and how they found it in them to do what they did. It’s not for any political reasons, and it’s not to be a hero. “You do it for the guys on your left and your right,” Eversmann said.