A native of Derry who was killed in action 28 years ago while serving in Somalia is about to be posthumously awarded the army’s second highest honor.
Sgt. First Class Earl Fillmore Jr. was 28 years old on October 3, 1993, when he was fatally injured in the Battle of Mogadishu while fighting to save the crew of a downed UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The engagement was dramatized in the 2001 Ridley Scott film “Black Hawk Down”.
A US Army Black Hawk helicopter patrols Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.
Fillmore was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for Distinguished Bravery. From now on, he could receive the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of extraordinary heroism. The Defense Policy Bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in December waives the time requirement for four participants in the Mogadishu engagement to see their service rewards enhanced.
The bill also paved the way for the presentation of the Medal of Honor – the highest national honor for bravery – to five potential recipients, three from the Korean War and two who fought in the Vietnam War.
Sharon Schmucker of Derry, one of Fillmore’s six sisters, eagerly awaits confirmation that her brother’s final prize is on its way.
“I’m just waiting for that phone call or email,” she said. “It’s about keeping Earl’s memory alive and knowing he’s always with us.”
“He’s the hero of our family,” said Fillmore’s niece Angie Burd of Unity, who recently retired as Army Master Sgt. “I think it’s amazing what he and the other soldiers did during the Battle of Mogadishu and how much inner strength they had to risk their lives for a peacekeeping mission.
“I think they deserve whatever the military can honor them, even though it’s so far after the fact.”
Burd said Fillmore was a mentor as well as his uncle.
“There was only a 10-year difference between us,” she says. “When I was growing up, he dated and took me. He taught me how to shoot a gun and he always took care of me.
“He was the embodiment of a soldier. It was always what he wanted to do since he was little. He loved his job in the military, he loved to serve. It made me less nervous about doing it myself.
Earl Fillmore Jr., a Derry area high school graduate and army ranger, was killed in action in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.
As a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Fillmore, at age 24, became the youngest soldier to be accepted into the elite Delta Force.
In addition to the military, Fillmore received many honors from the community of Derry and the Derry Area School District, where he graduated in 1983. A linebacker with the Derry Area Trojans, Fillmore remembers an annual award given to the team’s best defensive player. .
Coaches from Fillmore High School joined his family on a trip to New Cumberland in 2011, when a medical facility was named there in his honor – the CFS Earl Fillmore US Army Health Clinic.
“We went there with so many people,” Schmucker said. “We were all very proud.”
Fillmore received basic training as a combat medic at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and graduated as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant in 1985.
Family members credit an Army veteran who befriended Fillmore when the two were finishing medical training in Texas, for pushing for the clinic to be named.
“I think it’s a great honor,” said Burd.
In addition to Fillmore’s final resting place in Fort Bragg, NC, the clinic is a place the younger generations of the extended family can come to to appreciate the soldier’s service and sacrifice.
“They can go out there and say, ‘He was my uncle and that’s what he did’ and be very proud,” Schmucker said.
The Army in 2021 presented Silver Star upgrades to 58 veterans of the “Black Hawk Down” engagement after a full review, the Army Times reported. Two others received upgrades to the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In addition to Fillmore, the other members of the mission awaiting an Accelerated Distinguished Service Cross are:
- Staff Sgt. John G. Macejunas, a Delta Force NCO.
- Retired Col. Robert Mabry, a Delta Force medic who then served as the command surgeon for the Joint Special Operations Command.
- Retired Command Sgt. Major William F. Thetford, who later served as the senior enlisted chief for United States Central Command.
Jeff Himler is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, email@example.com or via Twitter .