Day of remembrance proposal follows school board’s denial to name school after fallen hero
Assemblyman Ryan Peters introduced a bill on Thursday to honor two New Jersey natives that were heroes in the military mission made famous by the critically acclaimed movie Black Hawk Down
The bill would designate October 3rd, “Sergeant Dominick Pilla and Corporal Jamie Smith Day,” in the State of New Jersey.
Sergeant Pilla, of Vineland, and Corporal Smith, of Long Valley, died in the line of duty on October 3, 1993 during “Operation Restore Hope,” an Army Ranger raid to capture the warlord Mohammed Addid in Mogadishu, Somalia, including subsequent efforts to recover and extract fellow Army Rangers from a downed Black Hawk helicopter when the convoy was ambushed.
“Many of our heroes fighting for us in foreign lands are often nameless to the general public. When people make the ultimate sacrifice these two men made, they deserve to be known,” said Peters (R-Burlington), who has seen his share of combat, serving multiple tours overseas as a Navy SEAL.
“Every October 3rd, I propose the State of New Jersey celebrates the courageous lives of Sergeant Dominick Pilla and Corporal Jamie Smith. I can’t think of two people more deserving of this honor,” Peters continued.
The assemblyman drafted the resolution after hearing of a teacher in Vineland who tried unsuccessfully to get a new school named after her brother.
Jennifer Pilla, the sister of Dominick, has fought to make the memories of his heroics known. Although Vineland Public Schools denied an attempt to name a school opening in September after Dominick, she said her family would be proud of a day in honor of him. Dominick came from a long line of family members who served in the military, including his father and brother.
“A lot of people know about the movie Black Hawk Down, but I don’t know if people necessary connect it to the actual soldiers who died that day,” said Jennifer Pilla, who is a teacher in Vineland. “People need to be reminded to the fact that without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t have the freedom that we have.”
During the events in 1993, Smith was a member of a force deployed to Somalia to contain warlords. While Smith and other members from his team launched a raid, a Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade and went down. He and three members of his team made their way to the crash site to establish a defense perimeter when a bullet struck his thigh and he was killed.
Pilla was tasked to extract fellow Army Rangers from the downed helicopter when his convoy was ambushed and he was killed.
Smith and Pilla were both posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device and Purple Heart.