By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Navy Seal Lt. Michael P. Murphy, nicknamed "Murph" and known as an intense and empathetic young man, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor yesterday "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life" while outnumbered by Taliban fighters in a June 2005 battle high in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The 29-year-old Seal team leader and former lifeguard from Patchogue, N.Y., is the first service member to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in the war in Afghanistan and the first sailor since Vietnam to be awarded the medal, the nation's highest military decoration.
At a ceremony in the White House's East Room, President Bush presented the medal to Murphy's parents, Daniel and Maureen Murphy. "This brave officer gave his life in defense of his fellow Navy Seals," Bush said, adding that Murphy acted "with complete disregard for his own life."
Maureen Murphy said she felt "overwhelmed," while Daniel Murphy called the moment "bittersweet . . . extremely proud and sad." A Vietnam veteran, he said he wished his son could have walked into the East Room to take the medal himself, but he also voiced conviction that Michael believed in what he was fighting for.
Murphy, who graduated with honors from Penn State in 1998, was accepted to several law schools but decided instead to try out to become a Navy Seal. Although of slight build, he passed the grueling training and in 2002 earned his Seal trident, deploying to Jordan, Qatar, Djibouti and then, in early 2005, to Afghanistan.
"He and his team knew they were going to the land of those who planned, plotted and attacked New York City," Daniel said after the ceremony. "It was payback time as far as he was concerned. . . . This was something that they were looking forward to, this was protecting our nation," he said.
Wearing a New York firehouse patch on his uniform, Murphy was the leader of a four-man Seal reconnaissance team inserted "deep behind enemy lines" in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan's Konar province on June 27, 2005, in pursuit of a militia leader aligned with the Taliban, according to an official narrative.
The commandos were soon spotted by three goat herders, who were initially detained but later released. They are believed to have given away the team's location to Taliban fighters, it said.
A contingent of more than 50 fighters attacked from three sides, forcing the Seal team to begin bounding down a mountainside into a ravine. After more than 45 minutes of heavy fighting, with his radioman wounded, Murphy realized that the only way he could contact his headquarters for reinforcements would be to move into exposed terrain to get a signal.
"In the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire," the medal citation reads.
As Taliban fighters shot at him, Murphy made the call and "calmly provided his unit's location and the size of the enemy force" while requesting urgent support. At one point, he was shot in the back and dropped the transmitter, but picked it back up to finish the call, the official account said.
Murphy continued to shoot back at the Taliban fighters but was severely wounded. His team was running out of ammunition. By the end of the brutal, two-hour firefight, in which an estimated 35 enemy fighters were killed, Murphy and two members of his team were dead. A fourth team member managed to escape and was later rescued.
The loss of most of the team was compounded when a Chinook rescue helicopter coming to their aid was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed, killing all 16 men aboard. In all, the incident resulted in the worst death toll for U.S. forces on a single day since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.