Monday, October 22, 2007
LT Michael Murphy receives Medal of Honor Today
THE HONORABLE MICHAEL MURPHY 'MISSION accomplished." That's the reaction of Marcus Luttrell to the news that Lt. Michael Murphy would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The presentation will be made to Murphy's parents by President Bush today at the White House. Murphy's life and death are the stuff of storybooks. If only we could change the ending. The recognition of Murphy's gallantry is the final chapter for Operation Redwing and Seal Team 10. The story, which Luttrell immortalized in his best-selling book "Lone Survivor," is a remarkable account of military heroism in the post-9/11 era. Indeed, Murphy is the first recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan and the first SEAL since Vietnam to be honored. Murphy was the ranking member of a four-man team inserted into the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan in June 2005. The mission: locate a high-level Taliban operative with ties to Osama bin Laden who was believed to be in a neighboring village. Soon after the SEALs arrived, three goatherds happened upon them. The herders were unarmed, but Murphy and his comrades got a bad vibe and were faced with an unenviable choice: Let the herders go and risk blowing the team's cover, or kill the herders? As team leader, it was Murphy's decision. He let the herders live. An hour later, the SEALs were surrounded by at least 100 Taliban. A vicious gunfight ensued, which Luttrell described for me: "I guess it was about an hour and change into the gun battle. Our communication ties had been severed because of the number of men we were up against . . . there was pretty much no way we were going to get out of there. They had us in a 360-degree pen, and they were wearing us down. We were running low on ammo." Murphy made a last-ditch effort to save his comrades when he stepped into a canyon to make a satellite call for help. He was shot and died in the firefight, with Petty Officers Danny Dietz and Matt Axelson. Sixteen other men sent as reinforcements were killed when their chopper was shot down. It was the deadliest day in Navy special warfare history. Marcus Luttrell watched his friend Michael Murphy die. "In the situation we were in . . . he never lost his cool, and he got help for us," Luttrell said. Lead Petty Officer Luttrell was the only survivor, hence the title of his book. He had to drag his wounded body several miles, until he found refuge with an Afghan villager. Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross by President Bush. Dietz and Axelson received that award posthumously. Luttrell saw tremendous valor in Murphy, the stuff of Medals of Honor. "He gave up his own life to try to sustain the lives of his men," he told me. "He took it upon himself to muscle out into the middle of this canyon we were in and call for reinforcements. And when he did that, he didn't lose his life immediately because of it. He took a couple of rounds to his back . . . and continued fighting. But after that they had got a fix on his position and moved in on him . . . It ultimately cost him his life." NO ONE COULD be more proud that Murphy's father, Daniel, himself a Vietnam veteran. "I think the family kind of takes it that there is now this public recognition of what we knew about Michael all along," Murphy told me. "It was the manner in which he lived his life and the manner in which he served his country . . . Now the nation knows." "Michael had a knack and an ability to get out of the middle of scrapes. And Maureen" - Michael's mother - "and I never worried about Michael protecting himself. What Maureen and I always worried about was the fact that Michael would put himself in a position, in helping someone else, to get hurt. And that's basically what happened." ". . . Michael believed that a life in service to others and helping others was the only life worth living. And he lived that type of life every day. And so it doesn't surprise us that he would put himself on the line for his friends. He had an intense loyalty and devotion not only to his family and his country, but to his SEAL community and his SEAL teammates. And since his death, that's been reflected in how the SEAL community and his SEAL buddies have embraced the family." Today, Daniel Murphy will receive the Medal of Honor from President Bush in the name of his son. "We're overwhelmed by this. You know, it's very easy to talk about our son as a hero. It is very easy. He has so many good qualities . . . just a wonderful man. The world is a lesser place without him in it." Marcus Luttrell told me one more incredible detail of an already stunning story. "Whoever he had on the phone . . . I remember it like it was yesterday . . . he said, 'Thank you.' " In other words, Michael Murphy, shot twice and probably knowing he was at death's door, maintained his manners when ending the call he hoped would save his fellow SEALs. So, Lt. Murphy, thank you.