By Dave Ongie, News Editor
The threat of inclement weather forced the annual American Legion Veterans Day program indoors last Wednesday morning, but the members of King’s Mountain Post 24 didn’t let a little rain stop them from honoring those who have served our country.
Retired Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell was the featured speaker at the event. Harrell, an ETSU graduate who played on the school’s 1969 Rice Bowl Championship football team, reflected on a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Army.
Harrell recently became the fourth alumnus of ETSU’s Army ROTC program to be inducted into the Army ROTC National Hall of Fame. He earned his Green Beret and commanded special operation Delta Force in Somalia, which was later chronicled in the book and film “Black Hawk Down.”
It was right after the “Black Hawk Down” battle when Harrell very nearly lost his life. He was attending a memorial ceremony in Somalia for the soldiers lost in the battle when he suddenly realized he was lying on the ground. Unbeknownst to Harrell, a 60-millimeter mortar round had hit less than a foot from his right foot, resulting in life-threatening wounds.
“When the medevac bird comes, and you’re the first person they put on it, it’s never good,” Harrell said.
Luckily for Harrell, quick action by medics and others on the scene and the work of skilled doctors saved his life and allowed him to keep the use of his legs. Harrell recovered from his injuries and went on to command the largest special operations forces assembled since World War II during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was responsible for NATO forces taking operational control of Afghanistan in 2005.
Despite his many accomplishments, Harrell was filled with humility as he reflected on his close call that evening in Somalia.
“You can’t stand that close to a 60-millimeter mortar shell and walk away from it,” he said. “It kills you. For some reason, the Good Lord spared me that night, and I make sure that when I talk, I tell people about that.”