Anniversary marking death of Long Valley hero Jamie Smith


Anniversary marking death of Long Valley hero brings solemn reflection

By MARK KITCHIN Staff Wrier, Observer Tribune

Sep 24, 2023

The street in front of the senior center at Rock Spring Park in Long Valley was renamed Cpl. James “Jamie” Smith Drive in 2013. Smith was an Army Ranger from Long Valley who was killed during the battle of Mogadishu in 1993, 30 years ago on Oct. 3. From left are Thomas McBride, a member of the Washington Township Veterans Association, and Carol and James Smith Sr.

WASHINGTON TWP. – It has been nearly 30 years since native son and war hero Army Cpl. Jamie Smith lost his life in Somalia.

On Oct. 3, 1993, Cpl. Smith was part of a force of 120 Army Rangers including members of the elite Delta Force, who staged a raid to capture Somali warlord Mohammed Adid.

When a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down, Cpl. Smith was one of the first Rangers to arrive to secure the site and rescue its survivors.

A bullet struck his thigh and severed his femoral artery while he was helping another Ranger. The other Rangers would not leave him behind but could not rescue him from the area before he bled to death. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star with Valor Device and Oak Leaf Cluster in addition to a Purple Heart.

The incident was subsequently recounted in Mark Bowden’s 1999 book, “Black Hawk Down,” and by the 2001 Oscar-winning film of the same name.

The anniversary of his death will be honored modestly by the veterans organization in town. His memory will also be remembered at an upcoming West Morris Central High School football game, which has become a tradition. Smith, a 1990 graduate of West Morris Central, played football at the school.

Earlier in the year it was announced that the anniversary would become part of a visit from the Traveling Vietnam Wall, a moveable replica of the wall in Washington D.C., however those plans were postponed in April due to organizational difficulties.

Although this anniversary is a quieter recognition, Smith’s sacrifices have been remembered and respected greatly over the years.


On Nov. 10, 1993, the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., paid tribute to Cpl. Smith by reading a proclamation to members of the Senate.

“Smith died a hero,’’ Lautenberg said. “This country 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 m any. His commitment to his nation, his strength of character, and his love of family and friends will always be remembered.”

Five Years Ago

Five years ago, Gov. Phil Murphy declared Oct. 3 as Sgt. Dominick Pilla of Vineland and Cpl. Jamie Smith Day to recognize the 25th anniversary of their deaths. Both were Rangers who died in action in Mogadishu that day.

At that time, West Morris Central High School held a week-long celebration, “Call to Courage,” in which many war heroes who gave their lives were remembered.

“Jamie would have thought it was OK,’’ said Debbie Gonzalez, one of Smith’s former teachers. “He wasn’t shy. He didn’t like a big fuss. Jamie was a person of the community.

“Make it not about him but about groups. The state recognized Jamie and they made it the day so the (school) administration decided this is something significant and we can do this. We can make this a moment to honor him.’’

She said Smith was deserving of the honor. Gonzalez, who retired in 2023, kept in touch with Smith after graduation. She received some letters from him weeks before he died, even a few she found in her basement just before the 25th anniversary ceremony.

“He is worthy of that (being honored),’’ Gonzalez said during her speech. “I don’t say that because of the way he died. I say that because of the way he lived. He was a big brother, good son, hard working, persistent. He played hard, smiled hard, laughed hard. He was a human being, a mensch, a person who has integrity and honor.’’

West Morris Central made the anniversary of his death a teachable moment that week. An after-school meeting of the film club showed “Black Hawk Down.” On other days they honored other West Morris graduates like Stanley Pfrommer, Class of 1962, Allison Berry, Class of 1964,Larry Maysey, Class of 1965, and John Lindaberry, Class of 1966 who also died in the service of the country during wartime.

There was also roundtable discussion with some local veterans and Cpl. Smith’s brother, Sgt. Major Todd Smith, class of 1994.

And, during that week, in his honor, many high school classes, such as history, English and psychology wove the issues of courage, bravery and vulnerability into their programs as well.

In 2013, in a permanent memorial tribute, the road in front of the Senior Center and along the Rock Spring Park football field was dedicated as Cpl. James “Jamie” Smith Drive.

“With a great deal of pride we accept, on behalf of our son, the honor of today,” said his father James Smith Sr., a retired Army Ranger captain who lost part of his leg in combat in Vietnam in1967. “Now Jamie will never be forgotten.’’

The Observer-Tribune article said that Smith had arrived with his wife, Carol, from their home in Georgia, along with a son, Sgt. First Class Matthew Smith, then a Special Forces officer based in Fort Carson, Colo. Matthew’s twin brother, Todd, was not able to make the ceremony

Smith Sr. said he remembered the good times with his son and one situation stood out astypical of the young man. It was when Jamie Smith was a student at West Morris Central and hecame to the defense of a student with Down Syndrome who was getting picked on.

“Jamie stepped in and right before the fists flew, a teacher came along,” Smith Sr. said. “He saidhe wouldn’t put up with it and that somebody had to stand up. That’s who he was.”

Jamie Smith played football and varsity lacrosse for West Morris. He was not a serious student in high school but that he found his calling in the Army and specifically, as a Ranger, his father said at the time.

The Mission

On Oct. 3, 1993, American forces launched a raid to capture the warlord, Mohammed Adid. Afierce firefight lasted for hours and, by the next morning, Smith and 17 other Americans were dead and 73 were wounded. More than 2,500 Somalis were killed or wounded.

According to military reports, at one point, a helicopter had been shot down and the U.S. forces did not want to leave any dead bodies fearing they would be mutilated by Somalis.

“They would either all come out or none of them would come out,” Smith Sr. said. “This was a vicious, no-holds barred, dog fight. Jamie died hard.”

Smith Sr. said he learned before the mission that the Rangers had been denied their request for more combat support including artillery and a gunship.

“The Rangers were afraid that they would get trapped and they did,” Smith Sr. said. “The point is if you go in, you go in. Part of the problem was they went in totally half-assed.”

Smith Sr. said he later testified in front of a Senate Armed Services Committee investigating the incident.

“We couldn’t get a straight answer as to who had made the bad decisions,” Smith Sr. said.

He said then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin took the blame but was really just a “fall guy” for President Bill Clinton.

Smith Sr. said the mission was to help the starving Somali people to get out from under the rule of the warlords. Although he questioned the decision to try and capture A did without more support, he was in agreement with the overall mission at the time.

“Should we have been there?” said Smith Sr., “Yeah, damn right.”


On Tuesday October 3, 2023 members of post 1776,  Washington TWP mayor, and other members of the community paid their respects to Cpl. Jamie Smith.

Post Chaplin Tim Kelly says closing pray
Post Commander Tom McBride honors Cpl. Jamie Smith
Members of POST 1776 salute in honor of Cpl. Jamie Smith