Screenshot from the motion picture Black Hawk Down
Specialist 4 John “Stebby” Stebbins won the Silver Star for his heroics at the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Since 2000 he’s been serving a 30-year sentence for raping his 6-year-old daughter.
by David Robb
You may have seen the movie Black Hawk Down. It was one of the biggest box office hits of 2001, and earned its director an Oscar nomination. The film, based on Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book of the same name, told the story of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. One of the real life Army heroes of the battle was Specialist 4 John ‘Stebby’ Stebbins, who was shot three different times – and thought dead each time – but recovered from his wounds and received the Silver Star, the third-highest military honor.
A former baker from upstate New York, Stebbins served as the company clerk for an elite unit of Army Rangers. His fellow soldiers referred to him as “chief coffee maker” and “paper pusher.” But when thrown into battle, his heroics surprised everyone.
“He was a changed man, a wild animal, dancing around, shooting like a madman,” Bowden wrote in his book.
In the movie, all the combatants are depicted under their real names – everyone, that is, but Stebbins. The Army insisted that his name be changed in the movie because the year before its release, he was convicted in a military court martial of raping his own 6-year-old daughter.
The transcript of the court-martial reveals that around October 1, 1998, when Stebbins and his family lived at Fort Benning, Georgia, “he began sexually abusing his 6-year-old daughter” – who is identified in the court record as “MS.”
“(He) approached MS and asked her whether she had seen him in bed with his wife. After she replied that she had, (he) made MS remove her clothes, lie face down on the bed and spread her legs. He then raped her. (He) admits that he raped MS at least two more times before September 30, 1999. Before raping MS for a third time, (he) also forcibly sodomized her.
“(His) offenses were discovered on March 17, 1999, after (he) and his wife separated and were living apart. In response to an argument, (he) and his wife had over the telephone, MS, who was then 7, told her mother that she was “mad at him” and that she “hated him…because he did sex to me.” When questioned by her mother, MS indicated that (her father) had penetrated her genitals and anus and had placed his penis in her mouth.”
This was not the kind of hero the Army wanted portrayed in Black Hawk Down. So in exchange for receiving Pentagon permission to use actual Army Black Hawks in the movie, the producers agreed to change the name of his character. The real life John Stebbins became the fictional “John Grimes,” the only fictional character in the movie. And so Stebbins was written out of the script – literally.
The real John Stebbins is currently serving a 30-year sentence at the Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas.