In June of 2005, Lt. Michael P. Murphy of Patchogue, New York, was on a mission in the mountainous Kunar Province in Afghanistan. He had been one of four Navy Seals on a team previously reported as missing.
They were performing counter-terrorism operations in the region, with Murphy as the leader.
Afghan locals discovered the whereabouts of Murphy’s group and informed insurgents.
Soon, about 100 members of the Taliban were close upon them as the Seals desperately tried to fight them off.
However, they could not get a radio signal sufficient to communicate with their base and get help.
As ammunition ran low, Murphy did the only thing he thought he could do: he left the relative security of the mountains for a more open area to get a radio signal.
Although he came under direct fire, he succeeded in contacting the Bagram Air Base, informing them of his whereabouts and the size of the attacking group, according to The Associated Press.
Murphy, 29 years old, had been set to depart from the Middle East within a matter of months, so that he could marry his fiancée and longtime friend Heather Duggan.
He carried her engagement ring around for months before finally proposing to her in 2003.
He looked forward to the wedding, set for November of that year, and going to law school once he retired from the Navy. Instead, having been shot several times, he perished while making the emergency call.
“I was cursing at him from where I was. I was saying, ‘What are you doing?’” said Marcus Luttrell, one of Murphy’s team members, according to The New York Times. “Then I realized that he was making a call. But then he started getting hit. He finished the call, picked up his rifle and started fighting again. But he was overrun.”
When a helicopter was sent to their rescue, it was shot down by a grenade, and none of the 16 troops on it survived. Of the three members of Murphy’s group that remained in the mountains, only Luttrell was rescued. The other two, Petty Officers Matthew Axelson and Danny Dietz, were eventually killed.
All three of Murphy’s men were awarded the Navy Cross, which is the Navy’s second-highest honor.Two years after the tragic incident, Murphy himself received the Medal of Honor, presented to his parents by President Bush on October 22. The ceremony took place in the East Room of the White House.
“By awarding this medal,” said Bush, “We acknowledge a debt that cannot diminish over time, and can never be repaid.”
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award, which has not previously been awarded for service in the War in Afghanistan.
The distinction has been given twice in the Iraq War, to Paul R. Smith, and Jason L. Dunham.
“I can’t think of a more noble cause than to save the people of your squad in pursuit of our nation’s goals,” said Major David A. Junior, assistant professor in the Department of Military Science at John Carroll University. “[Murphy] embodies those characteristics of an American hero. He was duly and honorably recognized. We should all be grateful that we have men and women who will make that sacrifice of courage and commitment every day.”
Murphy’s reputation for heroism and protectiveness extends back to his childhood days, where he once fought with three bullies who were picking on a disabled student. “He’ll always be a part of me,” said Heather Duggan, “But what I truly, truly miss the most- and this might shock some people -is definitely his friendship.”
In addition to being her close friend and romantic partner, Murphy had taken and “older-brother”-like stance and defended Duggan against suggestive advances made to her at a bar.
“He’s our hero, and I think he is everybody else’s hero,” said Murphy’s mother Maureen. She and Murphy’s father Daniel, now divorced, remember their son as “Michael, the Protector.”
Murphy had been a member of the National Honor Society in high school, a lifeguard and an athlete, and later, a student at Pennsylvania State University.
He majored in Psychology and Political Science. Although he had been accepted into many law schools, he instead joined the Navy. He became a Seal in 2002, after completing the rigorous training program notorious for a 74 percent dropout rate.
“It’s comforting to know we are getting high-quality men and women to serve to the highest [military] traditions,” said Lt. Col. Joe McCluskey, from JCU’s of Military Science.