Master Sergeant Gary Gordon: Valor and Sacrifice

Master Sergeant Gary Gordon

On the sunny and cool morning of July 4, 1996, there was a small crowd gathered at the naval base in Newport News, Virginia. At the podium, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania had just finished a speech which drew polite applause. As he walked back to his seat, he smiled and acknowledged the proud widow. According to the Newport News Daily Press, “Moments after Carmen Gordon shattered the champagne bottle on the Navy’s newest Sealift ship-officially giving her husband’s name to the vessel-the morning sky over the James River filled with smoke and sparks. It capped a ceremony filled with flags, patriotic music, words of praise and tears.” The U.S.N.S. Gordon was the second ship to be transformed from a commercial vessel to a LMSR or Large Medium Speed Roll On/Roll Off ship. After hearing the stories of sacrifice, it is difficult to imagine a similar act of courage than this Master Sergeant’s determination to save his fellow soldiers only three years earlier.

Gary Gordon was born in Lincoln, Maine in 1960 and graduated from Mattanawcook Academy in 1978. He joined the U.S. Army that same year and was eventually chosen to join the Army’s Special Forces Operational Detachment known as the “Delta Force”, which was the branch’s top special operations unit. Global Security states that “Delta’s soldiers are carefully selected and specially trained. Delta conducts worldwide recruitment twice a year prior to its fall and spring assessment-and-selection courses. Assignment to 1st SFOD-D involves an extensive pre-screening process, successful completion of a three to four week mentally and physically demanding Assessment and Selection Course, and a six month operator Training Course. Upon successful completion of these courses officers are assigned to an operational position within the unit.” In this case, Gordon was assigned as a sniper.

Delta missions always require rapid and surgical responses while maintaining the lowest possible profile of U.S. involvement. On October 3, 1993, Delta’s mission, called “Operation Gothic Serpent”, was to capture top advisers to Mohamed Aidid, the Somali warlord. Gordon was Sniper Team Leader hovering in one of the Army’s Black Hawk helicopters during the assault. After one of the helicopters was shot down in the city, a search and rescue team was dispatched to the first crash site to secure it. But suddenly, another helicopter was shot down as well.

Since other supporting Army ground forces were not able to help the crew of the second helicopter, Gordon and his fellow snipers, Randall Shughart and Brad Hallings could only provide sniper fire from the air. Frustrated by their limited help, they requested to be dropped at the second crash site to protect the four crew members who were critically wounded. Since there were large numbers of armed Somalis moving into the area, the commanders denied Gordon’s request stating that the situation was far too dangerous and too risky for the three snipers to effectively protect the Blackhawk crew from the ground. Gordon, however, knew that there was no logical way the Black Hawk crew could survive alone, and repeated his request two more times until he finally received permission.

As Hallings remained behind to replace an injured crew gunner,Gordon and Shughart were dropped near the site armed with only their personal weapons. They battled their way to the location amidst heavy gunfire and pulled the pilot, Mike Durant, as well the other crew members out of the mangled Blackhawk. In an interview with Mike Durant, he stated, “So I had picked up my weapon and was preparing to defend the crash site when Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon showed up on my side of the aircraft.” But as Shughart and Gordon defended the wreckage, they were quickly outnumbered. Their ammunition was also being rapidly depleted.  Durant recalled, “So they got me out of the aircraft, laid me on the ground, put my weapon across my chest, and the way I described their actions were professional and deliberate to the point that they looked like they were planning a parking lot. I mean they didn’t seem alarmed. It was just focus on the task, doing what they needed to do to improve our situation, and get through it, get us rescued.  Just moments after this, Gary Gordon is shot. I hear Gary say, damn, I’m hit. And what always struck me was the way he said it. I mean it was almost like he nicked himself with a knife.  And apparently it was a mortal wound, and evidence of that was the fact that Randy Shughart came around and gave me Gary’s weapon.  Now obviously I’m increasingly concerned about our chances of survival. The only two soldiers I’ve seen, one’s down, I’m out of ammunition, the Somalis appear to be getting more aggressive. Randy comes back around the aircraft, and he makes a radio call and then he just makes his way back around the nose of the helicopter to the other side, and I never see him again.” Gordon and Shughart were both killed by Somali gunfire. Shortly after, Durant was taken alive.

The Blackhawk Helicopter Similar to Gary Gordon's.

On May 23, 1994, both Gordon and Shughart posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions and the sacrifices they had made to help protect the life of Durant and the crew. They were the only soldiers to receive the honor in the operation as well as the first Medal of Honor recipients since the Vietnam War. President Clinton presented the medals to their wives Stephanie Shugart and Carmen Gordon at the White House.

Today, along with the naval vessel, an elementary school in North Carolina named Gordon Elementary opened in 2009. His actions were also recalled in the book and film, “Black Hawk Down”, as well as several websites. He is buried at the Lincoln Cemetery in Maine surrounded by flags and flowers.

Finally, Durant recalled, “When Randy and Gary came into my crash site they knew the chances were pretty good they wouldn’t make it out alive, but they did it because they knew that if they didn’t take action, we were gonna die. And that’s why they did it.”



~ by JHN Writer on February 5, 2011.

2 Responses to “Master Sergeant Gary Gordon: Valor and Sacrifice”

  1. thanks

  2. Hello! really interesting site!

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