Deborah Mark/ Vineland Daily Journal
VINELAND – Twenty-five years ago, the Pilla family learned their U.S. Army Ranger, Dominick Pilla, was killed in action during a daring overseas mission.
On the anniversary of that sacrifice, their loved one is not forgotten.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a resolution on Wednesday dedicating Oct. 3 as Sgt. Dominick Pilla and Cpl. Jamie Smith Day to memorialize the two New Jersey-born heroes who died in the line of duty in Somalia.
Assemblyman Ryan Peters of Burlington, who served overseas as a Navy SEAL, led the effort to recognize the sacrifices of the soldiers lost in the military mission depicted in the film “Black Hawk Down.”
“On behalf of the Pilla family, I would like to thank Assemblyman Peters for his efforts in securing a day of remembrance for Sgt. Dominick Pilla and Cpl. Jamie Smith,” said Jennifer Pilla, who traveled to Trenton last week to witness the assembly unanimously approve the resolution that made its way to the governor's desk.
“Each year on October 3, we agonize over the loss of our brother,” Pilla said. “This resolution will be a bright spot on this dreaded day for our family."
"On this, the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, New Jersey will now join our family in remembering these outstanding Rangers," she said.
Pilla of Vineland and Smith of Long Valley died in the line of duty on Oct. 3, 1993, during Operation Restore Hope, a raid by Army Rangers to capture the warlord Mohammed Aidid in Mogadishu, Somalia.
The mission included efforts to recover and extract fellow Rangers from a downed Black Hawk helicopter when the convoy was ambushed.
“The men and women fighting for us in foreign lands are often nameless to the public. When they make the ultimate sacrifice, they deserve to be known,” Peters said. “It’s appropriate that every October 3 we remember the names of these two New Jersey heroes and celebrate their courageous lives.”
Smith and Pilla were posthumously awarded Bronze Stars with valor and Purple Hearts.
Peters drafted the resolution after learning about Jennifer Pilla's attempt to have the new middle school of Lincoln Avenue named after her brother.
The Vineland Board of Education initially declined her request to invoke a district policy to open the naming of the school to the public.
But they later agreed to do it. Pilla's name is among 14 nominations that the school board will consider at a special meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Vineland High School South auditorium.