Medal of Honor recipient from Somalia battle remembered in hometown
The (Carlisle, Pa.) Sentinel
NEWVILLE, Pa. — Randall Shughart was not the type to back down from a challenge.
When chores made it difficult for him to play on the varsity team, Shughart invited a few Big Spring High School Bulldogs to the farm on Sundays for a few games.
A lean machine in sneakers, the future Medal of Honor recipient had a knack for outmaneuvering jocks not used to playing football on pasture land.
“Randy was so quick ... Nobody could catch him,” childhood friend Neal McCulloch recalled. “If I were to describe him, he would be the quietest boy. In most of our crowds, he was the shortest or smallest.”
Twenty years ago this Thursday, Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart took on a challenge that would save a man but cost him his life. His act of heroism in Mogadishu, Somalia, saved the life of helicopter pilot Michael Durant.
McCulloch was there when Shughart was buried in the Westminster Cemetery soon after his sacrifice on Oct. 3, 1993. A former Army musician, McCulloch played Taps on his bugle for a man he had known since elementary school.
“That was certainly an honor of a lifetime,” McCulloch said. “There was the natural sadness of losing a good friend, but also the peace of knowing Randy had done what he was trained to do.”
The two men shared memories going back to the summer between the second and third grades when they both took cornet lessons from the same teacher. They would see each other often during recess in the playground of the Newville Elementary School.
“Our favorite pastime was to play Army,” McCulloch said. “We would try to capture the other person’s general or leader.”
The friends grew up together on farms barely a mile apart in North Newton Township. When the chores were done, they took turns riding a bike to the other boy’s farm where pretend battles were fought in barn lofts and haystacks made the perfect forts or tunnels.
During the summer, the boys played Little League under Coach Irv Nelson who lived just beyond the Shughart farm on Wildwood Lane. In the fall, the friends would hunt together.
“Randy always wanted to be a hunting guide out in Montana,” McCulloch recalled. “He would never tell you that he was best at everything, but Randy had that inner fire to be the best at whatever he tried.”
For Shughart, the ultimate challenge was the Army Special Forces and that final mission to protect Durant who was pulled from a downed Black Hawk helicopter. Shughart was killed along with Master Sgt. Gary Gordon in a firefight with Somali insurgents.
News of his death surprised Susan Swartz, who graduated with the two friends from Big Spring High School in 1976. She said she thought for sure the small scrawny guy who smiled a lot and was always laughing would end up being a local farmer. Instead, Shughart felt compelled to serve his country.
“I can see Randy putting himself in harm’s way if he could help,” Swartz said. She said she remembered how the future soldier always got the best of his friends whenever they joked around and wrestled.
For many, the example set by Shughart has become a source of inspiration. When Swartz’ daughter Chelsea wanted to raise money for a good cause, her mother suggested launching a campaign in salute of Shughart.
After all, her daughter was senior class president at Big Spring High School in 2006. Since that year was the 30th anniversary of Shughart’s graduation, it seemed a fitting tribute to raise money to help others.
With support from the Big Spring community, mother and daughter established two annual scholarships of $500 each in the name of Randall Shughart. One scholarship goes to a graduating senior looking to pursue a career in agriculture while the other goes to a student looking to serve in the military.
Having the scholarship keeps alive the legacy of his heroic deed, Swartz said. “It keeps history going.” People who did not know of Shughart may pause and read about him.
“He is an icon of what we stand for,” said Tom Kelley, president of the Carlisle chapter of the Special Forces Association named after Randall Shughart. “He is a representation of the creed that we live by. He gave his life for a fellow soldier without regard for his personal safety.”
Recently, the local chapter organized an effort to improve the visibility of Shughart’s grave site in the Westminster Cemetery. They had learned through sources that visitors wishing to pay their respect to the Medal of Honor recipient were having a hard time locating his final resting place.
When word went out of the effort, the chapter received donations from soldiers all over the world, Kelley said. “It was an immense outpouring of support.”
The older grave marker has been replaced by a much larger piece of granite laser etched with the wording of Shughart’s Medal of Honor citation. There is also a reflecting bench.
For McCulloch, the fondest memory he has of his friend was inviting Shughart to his bachelor party held along the Conodoguinet Creek, he said. The two men spent the evening relaxing and listening to the flow of the water. “We were very much at peace,” McCulloch said.