Army Aviation History / March 2002: The release of the motion picture, “Black Hawk Down,” has made the struggle and sacrifices that occurred in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993, almost common knowledge to Americans.
CW3 Perry Alliman (left) and CW3 Dale Shrader (CW2 at time of photo) were Black Hawk pilots flying a reconnaissance mission over Mogadishu, Somalia, when they were shot down. Three crewmembers died in the crash and Allison and Shrader barely escaped with their lives.
For CW3 Perry Alliman, the story of “Black Hawk Down” is only a fragment of a larger story, a story that ended before October 3 with three American soldiers killed in action and two surviving a night of pain and terror.
Alliman was a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot in the 101st Aviation Regiment, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but was attached to the 10th Mountain Division with “Team Courage” during the United Nations operations in Somalia.
During his time in Somalia, Alliman witnessed escalating violence in Mogadishu. Small arms fire and mortar attacks were happening with increasing intensity.
The night of September 25, Alliman and his crew were on routine patrols over Mogadishu when they stopped to refuel at an airfield. During their refueling, mortar fire started falling nearby. The aircraft and crew escaped without damage, but were unable to locate the mortar site and continued their patrol.
* * * * *
The intense heat of the fire and the danger that ammunition inside the aircraft would detonate thwarted Shrader’s search.
* * * * *
Flying over Mogadishu at roughly 100 knots, someone came out on a rooftop less than 40 feet below the UH-60. The Somali fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the aircraft, hitting the compartment area. The interior of the helicopter instantly became an inferno.
“When it exploded, fire rolled over me and Dale Shrader,” Alliman recalled. “Sergeant Eugene Williams tried to get out of his seat and over the center console. That was the last time we saw him. He didn’t make it over the console.”
At the controls, Shrader and Alliman banked steeply to a hard landing on the aircraft’s right side. The tail section separated from the aircraft as it hit.
“Once the aircraft stopped, I got out on my side. Dale fell while getting out and broke his arm when he hit the ground,” Alliman said. The two pilots met in front of the aircraft, and Shrader returned to find remaining crewmembers.
CW3 Perry Alliman was awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds he sustained in the crash.
None of them had gotten out of the aircraft. The intense heat of the fire and the danger that ammunition inside the aircraft would detonate thwarted Shrader’s search. Alliman and Shrader were forced to leave their aircraft and their fallen comrades behind.
PFC Matthew K. Anderson, the door gunner; Sergeant Ferdinan C. Richardson, an intelligence analyst who wanted to ride along to see the situation for himself; and Sergeant Eugene Williams, a dedicated soldier and Persian Gulf veteran, were killed in the crash. For Alliman, their untold stories are the greatest tragedy of that night in Somalia.
Shrader helped Alliman to a nearby alley and laid him on the ground in the shadows, then took a position on the opposite side of the alley. Shrader’s radio was broken and Alliman’s was lost in the crash. Shrader pulled out a signal light and started to signal for help, but was forced to bury the light when someone approached.
Two Somalis were coming through the alley with AK-47 rifles over their shoulders. With Alliman and Shrader only a few feet away in the shadows, the two Somalis walked past them.
In the skies above, another American aircraft spotted the inferno below and reported it, saying that there was no chance of survivors, Alliman said.
Pakistani forces sent out a ground rescue expedition, but the armored personnel carrier was attacked immediately. The first soldier to come out was shot, and the APC fled.
“They still didn’t know we were alive and had no idea it was happening,” said Alliman. “My hands were injured and my pistol was damaged, so I couldn’t load it.”
The Somalis came back and spotted Shrader hiding in the alley, and one Somali threw a grenade. Shrader reacted quickly, firing his entire magazine at the Somalis and then fleeing from the grenade. The first grenade failed to explode, but the Somali attackers threw more. The shrapnel from the grenades missed them, but they both received cuts from the debris.
The Somalis yelled for the two injured men to come out, threatening to kill them, but the enemy troops hesitated before entering the alley. Alliman attributed this to Shrader’s rapid firing of his first magazine, which may have made the enemy assume that the Americans were heavily armed.
“One of them got brave and ran down the alley with his AK on automatic fire,” said Allman. “He was shooting right over our heads, but Dale shot him when he got past us.”
Shrader fired his last rounds of ammunition, leaving the men unarmed and pinned down, but the death of the first Somali prevented any further acts of bravery.”
“It even got quiet for a little while, and we were out of bullets at that point,” said Alliman. “Dale came over at that point and tried to comfort me, telling me, ‘Perry . . . John 3:16.’ I was prepared to go into shock. He prayed with me.”
As they prayed, a man came into the alley and said, “American boys, come.” Shrader stood up and told the man he had a gun, but the man only pointed down the alleyway to an APC that was waiting for them.
The United Arab Emirates forces has sent a party on their own to investigate the crash. The men found the energy to run to the APC. Small arms fire broke out around them, but they managed to get inside safely.
Alliman and Shrader were taken to an aid station, then on to Germany the next morning. Alliman spent six weeks in recovery and underwent five surgeries during that time. He was awarded the Purple Heart. Shrader was back on flight status in 90 days and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and later the Silver Star.
According to Alliman, the rest of the crew was never fully recovered. Two empty caskets and one partially filled one were sent back to America. As a memorial, the 159th Aviation Brigade Complex at Fort Campbell is named after Williams.
“These guys died in combat and nobody knows about it,” said Alliman. “I told the guys that were with me, ‘I don’t want you to die for a footnote in history because that’s all this will be.’”
Somalia became more than a footnote to Alliman when his Black Hawk went down.
While many Americans sit and watch the events of October 3 unfold with famous actors, dozens of other stories of combat and survival in Somalia have gone unheard. Some of the men who lived them are dead. Some survive to remember and to share those stores. This is only one.
Compiled by Mark Albertson, AAAA Historian
(Editor’s note: Alliman is currently stationed at Fort Rucker as an instructor for the Aviation Warrant Officer Advanced Course. He lives with his wife of 20 years, Debbie, and his three children.)