Today, we bring you the first ever known interview by a member of the US soldiers who were present on the ground in Banjul during the 1994 military coup. We belief this is the only know published interview given by a any member of the US sailors on board the USS la moure county. No one knows why this event has not been written about widely, given the conspicuous timing of the presence of a US military sail boat with a strong military contingent on board. But Kairabanews would not look the other way. We began searching for the US soldiers on board USS la moure county in 2013. Some of the men contacted by us did not want to go on record because they have retired from the military and wanted to maintain a low profile. Others said their memory of the events of July 22nd, 1994 was very thin. A few who claimed they had fresh memories of the July 22nd event in the tiny west African state of the Gambia, were interested in talking to Kairabanews, but time did not permit the interview.
Many months after we first contacted Byron Eldridge, he contacted us back to schedule an interview.
In this February 6th, 2016 interview with Kairabanews, Byron began by maintaining that he still remember very well how things went down in Banjul that morning. “Our stay in the Gambia was very short”. According to Byron who was a member of the Electrical crew on board USS la moure county, everything just came out of nowhere. They had just arrived in the Gambia and docked at the ports, adjacent to the Gambia Marine Unit. The commanders briefed them, and they were allowed to go on their business for the day. As a result, Byron confirmed that about 3 or 4 of the US sailors decided to disembarked and get lost into town.
The men who went into town included one of my electrical crew members. “I did not go out, I was standing in the deck area enjoying the view of the city when suddenly there was pandemonium everywhere around us”. The calls went out immediately for everyone to get ready to leave Gambia right away. Byron continued, “As the announcement was going around, the Gambian president with the US ambassador in the Gambia with a large entourage were boarding our ship USS la moure county. The entourage was large, about 20 or 21. Closely following the entourage was a Gambian military jeep with heavily armed soldiers. They pulled their guns and began threatening the Gambian president who was in the process of boarding the USS la moure county“. Byron Elderidge continued; “It was total chaos. Our Seal Team 4 began firing their weapons. The deck team jumped into the water, followed by Seal Team 4 who were firing either at the Gambian troops or simply trying to scare them off. The deck team who jumped into the water to cut the docking cables. There was not time to untie the cables, thats why the deck team jumped into the water to cut the cables and free the ship. Seal Team 4 jumped in to provide them with security as they try to cut the cables. When they were done, we lowered the ladders to them and they swam to the ladders and climbed back on board as the USS la moure county, was moving away from the port of Banjul.
But there was a problem. Some 3 to 4 US Navy crew members have gone to town and are being left behind. This was not something they would allow to happen. Also concerned was the Gambian president. He did not want the USS la moure county to get out of town so quickly. Due to all these scenarios, president Clinton ordered them to hang around in a 50 mile box for three days. In the meantime, the missing crew members were brought back to the ship by Gambian fishermen. After three days of roaming around Gambian waters waiting for further instructions, the USS la moure county eventually took President Dawda Jawara to Dakar, Senegal and left him there with his entourage.