President Clinton awarded the nation's highest military honor Monday to two U.S. soldiers killed in Somalia, saying their heroism should not be forgotten amid criticism of his foreign policy.
At a solemn White House ceremony, Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to the widows of Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart.Gordon and Shughart were killed Oct. 3 in the abortive U.S. raid on a Mogadishu hotel where top aides to Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid were gathered. Eighteen Army Rangers and some 300 Somalis died in the de-ba-cle.
Clinton said the two sergeants "were real American heroes."
Gordon, 33, was a native of Lincoln, Maine. Shughart, 35, grew up in Newville, Pa.
After the raid, the administration came under fire for failing to provide adequate support for U.S. troops in Somalia. Clinton eventually withdrew all U.S. forces from the African nation.
"Let there be no doubt about the valor of those who served there and the valor of those who died there," the president said.
Clinton presented the medals posthumously to Carmen R. Gordon and Stephanie A. Shughart. Gordon's two children, Ian, 6, and Brittany, 3, stood alongside their mother as she received the medal in its wooden box.
To an audience that included another Medal of Honor winner, Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a Vietnam veteran, Clinton said: "They jumped into the ferocious firefight . . . they risked their lives without hesitation."
The two tried to rescue crew members from a downed U.S. helicopter. Wounded Warrant Officer Michael Durant - the only crew member to survive - credits Gordon and Shughart for saving his life.
Durant was captured, beaten and held for 11 days.
"Their actions were clearly above and beyond the call of duty," Clinton said.