AMERICAN CANYON — Dan Schilling’s name has become attached to the 1993 mission to rescue U.S. service members after the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters in war-torn Somalia. On the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day, the longtime member of the Army and Air Force shared the story of his role in the military operation that inspired the book and movie “Black Hawk Down” — and also asked his audience to ensure that liberty lives on at home, even as troops defend it abroad.
Schilling’s speech at the Community Center gymnasium highlighted the city’s observance of the 100th Veterans Day, a century after the 1918 armistice that ended World War I in Europe.
Schilling is credited with saving the lives of a Ranger and SEAL on Oct. 3, 1993, after the downing of two U.S. helicopter crews sent on a mission to capture lieutenants of the Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid in the capital city of Mogadishu.
“I don’t enjoy speaking of it, but I recognize the value of it,” he said before the event. “For whatever reason, those events still resonate with the public – maybe it’s the Alamo effect, the story of a few hundred men taking on a city of over a million. But if I’m to leave a message, it’s that to this day the U.S. forces are still a force for good. In my opinion, it’s an obligation America still has in the world.”
Despite the loss of American lives in Mogadishu – and a widely publicized picture of a dead servicemen being dragged through the streets of the Somali capital — Schilling asked his audience to remember the battle as an example of the county’s willingness to put its lives on the line for others.
“No country has expended more effort, spent more money, or expended more blood for others than this country, and we should be proud of that,” he said. “But no one bears that burden more than our veterans, from the most basic seaman or infantryman to Omar Bradley,” he continued, referring to America’s last five-star general.
Relating the story of a government that locked away a minority population during World War II, Schilling surprised his audience by revealing the perpetrators – not Nazi Germany but the United States, which forced Japanese-Americans out of their homes and into internment camps after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
“Tyranny can start anywhere,” said Schilling, who lives in Utah and has become a writer since retiring from the Air Force in 2016.
“When you enlist, you swear to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. That’s why it’s so important not to fall prey to demagoguery. If you’re an American, you came from somewhere else, and not that long ago.”
The gym was only about half full for the ceremony, as smog blowing into the Napa Valley from the Butte County wildfires apparently kept some would-be audience members away. Nonetheless, about a dozen veterans attended the American Canyon observance, part of an audience of roughly 100.
“Let us be reminded that we live in the land of the free because of the brave,” said Pastor Rene Trejo of Iglesia El Buen Pastor de American Canyon (EBP Church) during his invocation honoring veterans.
Among the veterans in attendance was Reggie Russell, who spent six years in the Army, served during the 1991 Gulf War and now is commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1123 in Vallejo. In Schilling’s words about service to country, he saw a call to fully honor the sacrifices made by troops to keep their countrymen safe.
“What caught my attention was the integrity of his speech, the idea that you rarely think of yourself … how he stepped into combat and didn’t think of his self-preservation,” Russell said after the ceremony.
Those who honored the military on Sunday should add meaning to their words volunteer their services to whatever local veterans support groups they can find, he added.
“Communities are suffering at the hands of self-thought, (people) without a though of what soldiers go through on a daily basis,” said Russell. “It’s no different from when a police officer or firefighter puts on that uniform – they go into a hostile environment.”
Locally, Veterans Day was marked by other observances in the county, with events planned in downtown Napa as well as Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville, where the Faces of Freedom artwork depicting U.S. service members on dog tag-style bas-reliefs was to be unveiled.