Dead Soldier Dragged Through Somali Streets a Modern-Day Unknown : Mogadishu: Pentagon says naming the mob’s victim serves no purpose and would only pain those who loved and lost him.
Popeye Field watched the news that day both fearful and transfixed as a U.S. soldier was dragged like a dead dog through the dust of Mogadishu by jubilant Somalis.
Was that Tom? His Tom?
“I can tell my son’s face, and his arms,” said Field, his voice still thick with heartbreak since the death of the 25-year-old Army sergeant from Lisbon, Me. “My two sons and myself was all looking. Right now, I couldn’t tell you for sure.”
On Oct. 3, Tom Field was among the U.S. Army Rangers hunting the underlings of Mohammed Farah Aidid who were plunged into a bloody urban battle that left 18 U.S. servicemen dead, 78 wounded and 300 or more Somalis killed.
The awful events of that day changed everything.
The death toll was terrible enough, but one single, sickening sight--a still photograph of a mutilated dead soldier, tied with rope before a jeering crowd--chilled many who had continued to think charitably about the United States’ purpose in Somalia.
Only four days later, President Clinton announced troops would withdraw from their mercy mission within six months, by March 31, 1994.
The withdrawal was not the fruit of victory; Somalia remained in deadly disarray. Instead, it was inspired in great part by the revulsion of the American people when they saw the humiliating spectacle made of that one slain soldier.
And, still, who he was remains unknown.
Which mother had kissed that face, or which wife that mouth with its crooked teeth? Who once felt warm in those arms?
Of the 18 men killed by Aidid’s supporters, five were reported missing until the Somalis returned their remains.
“They were the only ones that could have been in that photograph,” said Navy Cmdr. Joe Gradisher, a Pentagon spokesman assigned to field questions about Somalia.
Was he Sgt. Thomas Field, a skilled mechanic from a family of stock car racers whose father felt uneasy about his choice of an Army career?
Was he Staff Sgt. William Cleveland, 34, whose military heritage dated back to a soldier who died fighting on the Union side in the Civil War, and whose ambition since childhood was a life in uniform, like his father?
Was he Chief Warrant Officer Raymond Frank, 45, a pilot for 27 years who dearly loved flying?
Was he Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, a 35-year-old from Newville, Pa., who so loved the military that he made his wife, Stephanie, promise never to ask him to quit?
Or was he Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, 33, whose funeral in Lincoln, Me., the papermaking town he left 15 years ago, drew hundreds of mourners?
The Pentagon’s position is this: Naming the man in the picture serves no purpose, and would only pain those who loved and lost him.
“They were American soldiers,” Gradisher said. “That in itself is jarring enough. You don’t need an individual’s name to express horror at the treatment of the bodies.”
Gradisher said he did not know if the Pentagon had even identified the soldier in that indelible photograph--taken by Toronto Star reporter Paul Watson and distributed worldwide by the Associated Press--or other bodies shown in television footage.
The AP’s effort to determine their identities required calls to relatives and others who knew the 18 men before the list could be narrowed to the five, whose names the Pentagon then confirmed.
Most of those reached were these five soldiers’ parents; widows had moved, had newly unlisted numbers or took refuge behind the shields military families learn to erect.
And some, who did not want to be quoted, said it was better to leave the grieving alone.
Nada Morford, the mother of William David Cleveland Jr., felt that way at first.
She knew her son’s stepmother had told a Virginia newspaper she recognized David as the man in the AP photograph, but Morford immediately protested, saying it was not her son. “I want him to rest in peace and let him go,” she said then.
But Morford had only glanced at the picture in the newspaper weeks before, and the question gnawed at her. She went to the town library to make photocopies of pictures in a Time magazine article. And then she asked a reporter for the AP photograph.
She swallowed tears as she described how she pored over the pictures, how she found contours that seemed so familiar, but not enough for her to say with certainty the soldier in the photograph was her son.
“My son had black eyebrows and eyelashes,” Morford said. “He”--the soldier--”had light hair, black eyebrows.” But then, she said, she noticed that the legs and feet resembled David’s.
“I would hate to say this is positively my son, and have it be somebody else’s,” she said from her trailer home in Peoria, Ariz. Then, she began to cry.
In Clarksville, Tenn., Willi Frank thought she spotted her husband immediately in television footage. But even then, of the bodies she saw, she wasn’t really sure which might be Ray Frank’s.
The day before, she had learned Ray was missing. She studied CNN’s continuous reports, mesmerized, sure each time she could pinpoint that achingly familiar indent of Ray’s back surgery scar, the particular way he wore his short, graying hair.
“At the same time you’re looking for identifying marks, you’re praying there aren’t any,” Frank said, reflecting on that endless day. “I picked out the one that I hoped was him, because it looked like it had been the least mistreated.”
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, who was taken prisoner when his helicopter was shot down and later released, offers the five families at least some comfort: He believes all five men were dead before the Somalis got to them.
But Durant will not publicly even attempt to put a name on the face in the photograph.
“There’s no way to prove beyond any doubt,” he said, “so why put the family through what they’ve already been through?”
Many among the families of the 18 dead told of trying to learn whether the unknown soldier was theirs, of quizzing the battle survivors at the funerals.
Some could barely speak for weeping; others said they found little relief in knowing the soldier in the picture was someone else’s husband or son.
“That picture represents every parent’s nightmare,” said Caroline Smith of Long Valley, N.J., who lost her 21-year-old son, Spc. James E. Smith.
When she buried her son in Ft. Benning, Ga., Caroline Smith learned from some of the men with him in battle that he had been shot and pulled inside a building.
“Even though we happen to know that person wasn’t our son,” she said, “it could have been. It could have been.”
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