Friday, October 12, 2007
Fallen SEAL to receive Medal of Honor
By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Oct 11, 2007 17:20:59 EDT
SAN DIEGO — Two years after his death in a harrowing firefight on an Afghanistan mountaintop, Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL officer from Long Island, N.Y., will be bestowed with the nation’s highest combat honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, Navy officials said.
Lt. Ligia Cohen, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon, confirmed the award.
The announcement of the Medal of Honor — the first awarded to a Navy officer or sailor for combat actions in Iraq or Afghanistan — came Thursday during a White House briefing.
The medal will be presented to Murphy’s family during a 2:30 p.m. ceremony Oct. 22 at the White House, Cohen said. In addition, the late officer will be honored at two other events: the inclusion of his name on a wall at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes at 11 a.m. Oct. 23, and the presentation of the Medal of Honor flag at the Navy Memorial at 6 p.m. Oct. 23.
Murphy, 29, was leading a four-man observation team in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains when they were spotted by Taliban fighters on June 28, 2005. During the intense battle, Murphy and two of his men — Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz and Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson — were killed, and a fourth man, former Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell, was seriously wounded but managed to escape. Luttrell was rescued days later.
Murphy, known as “Mikey” to his friends and family, shot and wounded, managed to crawl onto a ridgeline and radio headquarters at the nearby air base for them to send in reinforcements. Taliban fighters were closing in on the team’s position, shooting their weapons and firing rocket-propelled grenades.
“Mikey was ignoring his wound and fighting like a SEAL officer should, uncompromising, steady, hard-eyed, and professional,” Luttrell wrote in his recently published book, Lone Survivor, about his military experiences, his team and the events of that day and the deaths of his teammates, his friends.
The fighting grew more intense, but the team pressed on in the close-quarters battle. At one point, Luttrell wrote, Murphy took his mobile phone, “walked to open ground. He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ.”
“I could hear him talking,” Luttrell wrote. “ ‘My men are taking heavy fire ... we’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here ... we need help.’
“And right then Mikey took a bullet straight in the back. I saw the blood spurt from his chest. He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle. But then he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear.
“ ‘Roger that, sir. Thank you,’ ” Luttrell heard Murphy say, before the lieutenant continued to train fire on the enemy fighters.
“Only I knew what Mikey had done. He’d understood we had only one realistic chance, and that was to call in help,” Luttrell wrote. “Knowing the risk, understanding the danger, in the full knowledge the phone call could cost him his life, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, son of Maureen, fiancé of the beautiful Heather, walked out into the firestorm.
“His objective was clear: to make one last valiant attempt to save his two teammates,” he wrote.
Not long after the call, Murphy was shot again, screaming for Luttrell to help him, but Luttrell, also hit and wounded, couldn’t reach him. “There was nothing I could do except die with him,” he wrote.
That day turned more tragic when enemy forces shot down a helicopter carrying members of a quick-reaction force sent to rescue Murphy and his team.
Murphy is survived by his parents, Daniel Murphy and Maureen Murphy, and his brother, John, along with his fiancé, Heather .
The Murphy family on Thursday issued a statement, provided by the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif.
“We are thrilled by the president’s announcement today, especially because there is now a public recognition of what we knew all along about Michael’s loyalty, devotion and sacrifice to his friends, family, country and especially his SEAL teammates,” they said. “The honor is not just about Michael, it is about his teammates and those who lost their lives that same day.”
This will be the third Medal of Honor awarded for Iraq and Afghanistan actions.
* Surviving SEAL tells story of deadly mission
* SEAL author speaks of regret, rescue, and the choice that cost 19 lives
* Excerpt from ‘Lone Survivor’
* Michael Murphy's "Fallen Heroes" memorial page
Murphy’s official Navy biography
Lt. Michael P. Murphy, fondly referred to by friends and family as “Murph,” was born May 7, 1976 in Smithtown, N.Y. and grew up in the New York City commuter town of Patchogue, N.Y. on Long Island.
Murphy grew up active in sports and attended Patchogue’s Saxton Middle School. In high school, Murphy took a summer lifeguard job at the Brookhaven town beach in Lake Ronkonkoma — a job he returned to each summer through his college years. Murphy graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994.
Murphy attended Penn State University, where he was an exceptional all-around athlete and student, excelling at ice hockey and graduating with honors. He was an avid reader; his reading tastes ranged from the Greek historian Herodotus to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Murphy’s favorite book was Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire,” about the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. In 1998, he graduated with a pair of Bachelor of Arts degrees from Penn State — in political science and psychology.
Following graduation, he was accepted to several law schools, but instead he changed course. Slightly built at 5 feet 10 inches, Murphy decided to attend SEAL mentoring sessions at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point with his sights on becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL. Murphy accepted an appointment to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, Fla., in September, 2000.
Murphy was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy on Dec. 13, 2000, and began Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado, Calif. in January 2001, graduating with Class 236. BUD/S is a six-month training course and the first step to becoming a Navy SEAL.
Upon graduation from BUD/S, he attended the Army Jump School, SEAL Qualification Training and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) school. Lt. Murphy earned his SEAL Trident and checked on board SDV Team ONE (SDVT-1) in Pearl Harbor, HI in July of 2002. In October of 2002, he deployed with Foxtrot Platoon to Jordan as the liaison officer for Exercise Early Victor.
Following his tour with SDVT-1, Lt. Murphy was assigned to Special Operations Central Command in Florida and deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning from Qatar, Lt. Murphy was deployed to the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, to assist in the operational planning of future SDV missions.
In early 2005, Murphy was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE as assistant officer in charge of ALFA Platoon and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
On June 28, 2005, Lt. Murphy was the officer-in-charge of a four-man SEAL element in support of Operation Red Wing tasked with finding key anti-coalition militia commander near Asadabad, Afghanistan. Shortly after inserting into the objective area, the SEALs were spotted by three goat herders who were initially detained and then released. It is believed the goat herders immediately reported the SEALs’ presence to Taliban fighters.
A fierce gun battle ensued on the steep face of the mountain between the SEALs and a much larger enemy force. Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Murphy, intent on making contact with headquarters, but realizing this would be impossible in the extreme terrain where they were fighting, unhesitatingly and with completed disregard for his own life moved into the open, where he could gain a better position to transmit a call to get help for his men.
Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire. This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy. While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point, he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in. Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.
As a result of Murphy’s call, an MH-47 Chinook helicopter, with eight additional SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers aboard, was sent in as part of the QRF to extract the four embattled SEALs. As the Chinook drew nearer to the fight, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter, causing it to crash and killing all 16 men aboard.
On the ground and nearly out of ammunition, the four SEALs continued to fight. By the end of a two-hour gunfight that careened through the hills and over cliffs, Murphy, Axelson and Dietz had fallen. Over 30 Taliban were also dead. The fourth SEAL, Petty Officer Luttrell, was blasted over a ridge by a rocket-propelled grenade and knocked unconscious. Though severely wounded, the fourth SEAL and sole survivor, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, was able to evade the enemy for nearly a day; after which local nationals came to his aide, carrying him to a nearby village where they kept him for three more days. Luttrell was rescued by U.S. Forces on July 2, 2005.
By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit and inspirational devotion to his men in the face of certain death, Lt. Murphy was able to relay the position of his unit, an act that ultimately led to the rescue of Luttrell and the recovery of the remains of the three who were killed in the battle.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy was buried at Calverton National Cemetery less than 20 miles from his childhood home. Lt. Murphy’s other personal awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.
Lt. Murphy is survived by his mother Maureen Murphy; his father Dan Murphy; and his brother John Murphy. Dan and Maureen Murphy, who were divorced in 1999, remain close friends and continue to live in N.Y. Their son John, 22, attends the New York Institute of Technology, and upon graduation will pursue a career in criminal justice, having been accepted to the New York City Police Department.