By Frank MisurelliNovember 17, 2016
EDITOR'S NOTE: The recent Veterans Day holiday served as a way for Public Affairs Specialist Frank Misurelli to write a commentary based on his memories of a fallen hero from New Jersey and his family:
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- They were told that the operation would last an hour. But the battle lasted 18 hours and cost 18 Americans their lives, including Cpl. James "Jamie" Smith of Long Valley, New Jersey.
Smith was 21 years old and is buried at Fort Benning, Georgia.
I didn't know Smith. I was tasked by Brig. Gen. James Boddie, Jr., a former senior commander of Picatinny Arsenal, to prepare remarks for Smith's building dedication held on June 11, 1996, at Picatinny Arsenal.
I struggled with drafting remarks because at the time the only accounts of this battle were from the media and sketchy.
As the June 11 date neared, I received a call from a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named Mark Bowden, asking if he could attend the building dedication.
"I'm not coming to cover this event for my paper," said Bowden. His wanted to meet the members of Smith's Ranger unit and meet Jamie's father, James Smith. After hearing Bowden's request, I told him I would escort him to the event.
I will always remember Boddie giving his speech--you know it's a good speech when the audience begins to cry.
"It is with pride that we honor the brave and selfless Soldier from our community," Boddie said. "His courage, as well as his team courage, never wavered. This country is strong because of individuals like New Jersey's native son, Cpl. James E. Smith."
At the conclusion of the dedication, Bowden was invited to Smith's home to meet and talk to the Ranger survivors, which later served as the catalyst for Bowden's bestseller, "Black Hawk Down, A Story of Modern War."
The elder James Smith was the local representative for the Small Business Administration, serving northwestern New Jersey. He was a retired Army Ranger captain, wounded severely in Vietnam.
I met him numerous times at Picatinny after the building dedication. He mentioned that Jamie was the eldest of his three sons and that his other two sons also enlisted in the Army. His son Matt served with the Rangers and then attended college and rejoined the U.S. Army Special Forces.
Jamie was a graduate of West Morris Central High School Class of 1990, where he played both varsity lacrosse and football. He also was a Boy Scout. He enlisted in the Army right after graduation to become a Ranger. As a child, he wore his father's beret until he was in eighth grade.
While attending high school, Jamie came to the defense of a student with Downs syndrome who was getting picked on.
"Jamie stepped in and, right before fists flew, a teacher came along," said James. "He wouldn't put up with it and that somebody had to stand up. That's who he was."
Jamie was part of a force deployed to Somalia in September 1993 to contain warlords who were starving the Somali people.
At the time, the battle was the bloodiest battle involving U.S. troops since the Vietnam War and it remained so until the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
On Oct. 3, 1993, a force of 120 Army Rangers and members of the elite Delta Force team launched a raid to capture the warlord Mohammed Adid.
After a Blackhawk helicopter went down, Jamie was one of the first Rangers to arrive at the scene to secure the site and rescue survivors. A bullet struck his thigh, severing his femoral artery while he was helping another Ranger.
Fellow Rangers would not leave him behind, but the Rangers could not rescue him from the area before he bled to death. "They would either all come out or none of them would come out," said Jamie's father. "This was a vicious no-holds-barred dog fight. Jamie died hard."
In a WABC radio interview with Steve Malzberg, James said, "When I watched the movie, Jamie's death is very graphic. His death actually happened over three hours. That, for me, was the most emotional scene in the movie, and what they had to deal with during that battle. The scene when he's dying, they called him Jamie, and that's what we called him," said his father.
Jamie was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star with Valor Device and Oak Leaf Cluster in addition to a Purple Heart. On Nov. 10, 1993, the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey paid tribute to Jamie when he read a proclamation to members of the U.S. Senate.
Lautenberg said, "Smith died a hero. This county is indebted to him for his service. As more than 800 mourners at his memorial service demonstrated, his passing leaves a void in the lives of many. His commitment to his nation, his strength of character, and his love of family and friends will always be remembered."