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Soldiers Gather In Memory
Some who served with Aaron Weaver in Somalia are coming to Citrus County to honor his bravery and sacrifice.
By AMY WIMMER SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times, January 17, 2004
His Army Rangers were low on ammunition, their Humvees filled with Somali prisoners and bullet holes.
Lt. Col. Danny McKnight led his men out of the Mogadishu firefight 10 years ago. As they regrouped and returned to retrieve the dead, wounded and stranded, McKnight needed someone else to lead the Rangers back to the smoldering streets.
"Aaron was the sergeant that I put in charge," McKnight said of Aaron Weaver, who survived the Somalia gun battle in 1993 but died in a helicopter crash last week in Iraq. "Very few people know that, except for those of us who were there, of course."
Many of those are reuniting this weekend in an unlikely spot - Inverness, the county seat of Citrus County, where Weaver once searched for arrowheads in the Withlacoochee State Forest and ran track for the Citrus High Hurricanes.
The men will join the family, coaches, classmates and community in saying goodbye to Weaver, believed to be the county's first casualty in the war in Iraq.
On Friday evening, they gathered to comfort Weaver's family at the Charles E. Davis Funeral Home in Inverness, where Weaver's sealed casket was on display, along with scrapbooks and photos. The services continue today with a private gathering, which Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to attend, and a military ceremony at the high school.
Weaver's life after leaving Citrus was a string of near-misses.
He emerged unscathed from Somalia - the fact that he was uninjured is one reason McKnight positioned him out front.
Last year, he overcame testicular cancer and spent months in the hospital recovering from a botched surgery.
When his unit was sent to Iraq, he was excused from duty because of his post-cancer checkups. Weaver, by then a helicopter pilot, insisted on the deployment, so the Army agreed to provide his health checks in Baghdad.
The 32-year-old chief warrant officer was on his way to a post-cancer checkup Jan. 8 when the helicopter transporting him was thought to have been shot down by Iraqi insurgents.
He leaves behind a wife, Nancy; a stepson, Austin; and a daughter Savannah, 1.
While Weaver's tour in Iraq underscores his bravery, the firefight in Mogadishu, one of the deadliest days in modern American warfare, gave Weaver and his colleagues permanent spots in military history.
The humanitarian mission-turned-bloodbath was immortalized in the movie and book, Black Hawk Down.
The 100 or so Army Rangers involved still get together every couple of years, and 30 of them made it to the 10-year reunion in October in Washington, D.C.
Weaver wasn't among them. He was already in Iraq.
Former Rangers reached Friday said 10 or 12 of them plan to be in Inverness today for a military ceremony on the football field of Weaver's high school alma mater. They are bound by a crucial day in their lives, a day they can't adequately describe to anyone who didn't live it with them.
McKnight, the lieutenant colonel who led the Rangers that day and retired two years ago as an Army colonel, will be there. So will Weaver's former platoon sergeant in Somalia, Bob Gallagher, now a command sergeant major.
Nicknamed "Black Hawk Bob," Gallagher was wounded in Iraq but kept shooting as he was taken away on a stretcher.
"He was a platoon sergeant then; he's a command sergeant now," McKnight said. "And he still remembers Aaron as one of his boys."
Aaron Williamson, a fellow sergeant with Weaver in Somalia, is also trying to make it to the service. Williamson and Weaver were together in a Humvee when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The shrapnel cut off some of Williamson's finger joints, the two men once recounted in a History Channel documentary about the mission.
"I could see the bone on the end of my finger, and at this point here, I started to fade," Williamson said. "Sgt. Weaver got a hold of me, started talking to me. I remember, to this day, I remember the Ranger creed."
Weaver held his comrade's hand and recited the creed: "I accept the fact that as a Ranger, my country expects me to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other soldier. Never shall I fail my comrades."
- Times staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this story.