‘That was my baby’: Widow of Black Hawk Down co-pilot recalls the tragedy

Special Reports

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Chief Warrant Officer 4 Raymond A. Frank served in the Army for nearly 30 years. 

He played a pivotal role in some of our country’s most secretive missions as a pilot for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell.

His final mission is widely recognized as Black Hawk down. Frank was co-pilot for Michael Durant who was taken prisoner.

However, for Wilma Frank, he was more than a war hero, he was her best friend.

Wilma was 23-years-old when she met Ray.

“I was the older woman,” she paused and added with a laugh, “by 5 months.”

Their connection was instant.

“We just talked for hours, and hours, and hours.”

He nicknamed her “Willi”, and the rest was history.

“He’d just gotten back from Vietnam, third tour, and his 1st Sergeant said, ‘you know he’s not talking about going back. He’s yours.’ So, that’s how I knew I had him,'” said Willi.

Ray was at the top of his game flying special operations around the world with the 160th Night Stalkers at Fort Campbell.

“It’s stuff in the movies. It’s not life, and yet it is,” Willi continued, “It’s exactly life.”

In 1990, Willi received a knock at the door.

“There’s been a crash,” she recalled.

The tail rotor on the Black Hawk helicopter her husband was flying stopped working.

Ray received a Broken Wing Award for his handling of the mechanical failure, and he helped fix the problem plaguing the aircraft.

“They grounded all the Black Hawks, re-fixed that part, and no more crashes.”

27 years into his service, Ray wasn’t slowing down. And after 21 years of marriage, Willi didn’t expect him to. In August 1993, he deployed to Somalia.

“It was another mission,” she said.

But, this one would be seared into the minds of many, as the Battle of Mogadishu, which was dramatized in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. Ray along with Durant, Bill Cleveland, and Tommy Field took flight.

“The tail rotor was shot out.” said Willi while making a face. “In the movie, you can hear it, and they heard it on the mics that day, is that Mike called out Ray’s name. So he pulled the collective. Everyone was technically alive when they hit the ground.”

Yet, severely injured. Despite their valiant effort, 18 American soldiers died. 73 were wounded.

“Ray’s body,” Frank remembered, “I was not able to see it. He had eight bullet wounds in him. There was a large hole in his face. He had been laying out in the sun for a week.”

Willi said God gave her strength to get through.

“I turned to the Chaplin, and I told him, ‘this is what Ray wants. I must touch him. He wants to be cremated, and I’m going to take him home.'”

The Army honored Ray’s wishes.

“They wrapped him like a mummy, and they took his uniform and laid it on top with the gloves. I was able to go in, and I could touch him. I could feel his forehead. And at that moment he was totally, totally mine. That was my baby.”

Willi freely shared what she’s learned though tragedy. “It helps somebody else.”

And encouraged others to live a life full of love like she shared with her warrior.

“That was my Ray.”

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