In the military, there are more acts of courage and heroism than the average person could possibly imagine. These selfless acts take place on a daily basis, and many, if not most, go unnoticed beyond whatever circle of service members present to bear witness to the actual event. There are, however, some acts of heroism that strike such a chord the notes are heard not only throughout the ranks but far beyond, into the civilian world. Such were the acts and life of U.S. Navy SEAL Michael Murphy; this is his story.
The details of Operation Red Wings are fairly well known thanks to Marcus Luttrell’s book, Lone Survivor, and the movie of the same name. It is a rare person today who doesn’t have at least a passing knowledge of the events that took place that day, ten years ago, in the shale-strewn mountains of the Hindu Kush. Deeper details and debates regarding the ROE do not reach out and touch the public in the same way they do those in the military community, but we are not here today to discuss these things. Each of the men present on that day is a hero, and honoring their memories is more than our right, more than our duty, it is an honor in itself.
Murphy – or Murph, as he would soon come to be known – was born in Smithtown, New York, to Daniel and Maureen Murphy, on May 7, 1976. His name would prove prescient; he was named after the archangel Michael. He grew up in Patchogue, and right from the start he was a hard-charging athlete who didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. Among his sports of choice were soccer, T-Ball, and pee-wee football; father Daniel, an attorney, was his coach. His desire to help others began to take obvious shape in fifth grade, when he earned the duty of serving on his school’s Safety Patrol. It emerged further in high school, when he became a lifeguard. He ended up spending his summers through high school and college working as a lifeguard at a beach in the town of Brookhaven called Lake Ronkonkoma. But while he took his first job in the field of safeguarding others in high school, he began actively defending others at an even younger age.
“With the courage of a lion, always do the right thing.” Murph’s grade school motto
When Murph was in 8th grade he came upon a group of boys forcing a special needs student into a locker. For Murph, there was never any question as to whether or not to get involved. He simply acted. This was the first time the school’s principal had to contact his parents, and when they found out what had happened, they were rightfully proud. On another occasion he defended a homeless man who was being assaulted while trying to collect cans; after fending off the man’s antagonists he set about helping him pick up cans. When he was just 7 years old, he threw himself in front of a moving car to save the life of a small dog that was in harm’s way. Their son was already The Protector, and he was just getting started.
Following high school Murphy attended Penn State. He graduated in 1998 with degrees in political science and psychology, and although he was accepted into more than one law school, he had other ideas about his future.
Murph had been interested in the SEALs for years, a dedicated, serious interest his father preferred he not pursue. Daniel Murphy had served in Vietnam, and while his eldest son was growing up he’d outlined the many issues he’d witnessed take place throughout his service. It was his hope Michael would go to law school; Michael had the drive and intelligence to be a lawyer and would undoubtedly have made an excellent one. But in his senior year at Penn State, Murph began researching the SEALs in earnest.
During his research Murph came across former SEAL captain Ryan McCombie. McCombie served as the Navy rep and facility instructor at the U.S. Army War College, which was located in nearby Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The former SEAL’s 26 years of service included time as CO of Team Two, and he was highly decorated. Among his dozens of awards he’d earned a Bronze Star with a V device and two Defense Superior Service medals. McCombie had both trained others and served all over the world and was the first American to complete French marine special operators training, after which he did a two-year tour with Commando Hubert. If all those things weren’t impressive enough McCombie had also been an operations officer for Red Cell Team, which was known for its counterterrorism ops. Murph knew he had to meet McCombie, so he set about obtaining permission to visit him at his home.
On the day of the meet, an instance already rare enough due to McCombie’s desire to cut back on visitors simply interested in tales of SEALs, Murph found the former SEAL in his backyard, chopping wood. McCombie had no way to know whether or not Murph was serious, and so when the college senior approached him he simply asked if he was there to hear SEAL stories. Murph replied no, he was not, that he wanted to be one, not hear about them. McCombie gave Murph a silent once-over, then returned to chopping wood, telling the younger man they’d talk when he’d finished his task.
Murph spent a moment looking around and spotted another axe. Without hesitation he removed his jacket, set it aside, and joined McCombie working his way through the woodpile. The job took several hours during which the two exchanged small talk, and when the work was done McCombie invited Murph to join him on his back porch. There he spent two hours listening as Murph outlined his background and goals, and while McCombie had no way of knowing how serious Murph really was, he couldn’t help but be impressed by his obvious determination. Before Murph left, McCombie told him to contact Captain Andrew Bisset for SEAL mentorship at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. Then McCombie took it a step further, calling Bisset himself to give his own positive opinion of Murph’s work ethic and drive. After the fact McCombie would say, “If Michael just had watched me work, I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. The fact that he picked up the other ax I had sitting there and helped me complete the world told me a lot about him. It turns out, I was right.”
Instead of taking the route that would have put him behind a desk and pacing the floors of courtrooms, Murph instead chose to attend the U.S. Merchant Marines Academy, where he went to SEAL mentoring sessions. By September of 2000 he’d been offered and accepted an appointment with the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Florida, and on December 13th of that same year he was commissioned as an Ensign. From there he went straight to Coronado, California, to attend BUD/S. His entrance into BUD/S was significantly affected by the recommendation written by Captain Bisset, who had mentored and watched Murph bull his way through months of rigorous training.
“Mike Murphy is an outstanding and well-rounded candidate who appeared before me confident, clean cut, articulate and above all, committed to become a Naval Officer in the SEAL program… I would be most eager to have this individual serve in my wardroom. Select now.” Excerpts from Captain Bisset’s recommendation
Michael Murphy would graduate from BUD/S with Class 236, but not before a medical rollback brought on by his pushing through the pain of serious bilateral stress fractures and severe cellulitis in his feet and legs. He fought through what must have been unspeakable agony until it reached the point he was unable to move his legs and the telltale red streaks of blood poisoning were streaking towards his groin. Left with no choice but to reveal his plight, he was taken to the base hospital. He’d lost consciousness, and the doctors rushed to remove necrotic tissue and treat him with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. When he came around 48 hours later and was told he couldn’t continue BUD/S, he immediately attempted to get out of the hospital bed and rejoin his class. It wasn’t until instructors told him he’d been granted a medical rollback that he finally relented. Michael Murphy was tough, stubborn, and determined to earn his trident. And so he did.
Sadly there is not room to list Murph’s many accomplishments here, so we move ahead to his final mission: Operation Red Wings. The mission where he made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13, KJV
A four-man reconnaissance team made up of Murph, Petty Officer Danny Dietz, Petty Officer Matthew Axelson, and LPO Marcus Luttrell was inserted into the Korangal Valley of the Hindu Kush with the goal of putting eyes on Ahmad Shah, a known terrorist. On the morning of June 27, 2005, actionable intelligence gave the SEALs a location for Shah. Under the cloak of darkness that same night the men kitted up and boarded a Chinook MH-47E with the call sign Turbine 21. They set out, and only one man would come back, though not for days; that one man would never be the same.
The story is known. The goat herders stumbling upon their position, nestled above the village. The discussion that followed, full knowledge and implications of SOP and the ROE- knowledge of the vilification of the mainstream media were they to execute the goat herders. Potential court martial. The reality that the goat herders may well be informants to the Taliban. In the end the decision was made to release them, and as the goat herders scrambled away, the SEALs immediately prepared to move out. Their retreat would begin in broad daylight, and would end in the Battle for Murphy’s Ridge.
When the Taliban attacked, the SEALs found themselves massively outnumbered. Despite that all four men fought ferociously, taking out such a large number of the enemy fighters one can only imagine what the Taliban thought. This must be a much larger force than reported by the goat herders; there was no way just four men could wreak such thorough havoc. But they did, raining down hell’s fury on the advancing insurgents.
“F*** surrender.” Michael Murphy during the firefight
The SEALs were forced to throw themselves repeatedly down the sharp shale-strewn mountainside. The Taliban had the high ground, and it was impossible to take. Murph suffered a brutal bullet wound to the abdomen early on in the fight, and yet he battled on. Then he took another round to his chest.
Lieutenant Michael Murphy had a choice to make.
Reaching into his pocket, Murph dragged out the emergency phone. They’d been entirely unable to raise comms throughout the fight, and the phone – the phone they didn’t dare use due to its propensity to give away their location – was their last hope. But even getting a signal on the emergency mobile appeared hopeless. So Murph The Protector did what any true man of honor would do. He chose a high, clear spot, the spot most likely to deliver a signal, and he stepped out into the open.
Amid the susurrus of gunfire and the booming throb of RPGs, Murph dialed HQ.
“My men are taking heavy fire…we’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here…we need help.” (from “Lone Survivor” page 235)
It was Marcus Luttrell who bore witness to the murder of Michael Murphy. No sooner had Murph uttered his request for help than a bullet ripped through his back. Murph sagged forward, dropping both the phone and his rifle, then caught himself, retrieved his rifle, picked up the phone, and put it back to his ear.
“Roger that, sir. Thank you.” (From “Lone Survivor” page 235)
Murph wasn’t done yet. Already shot repeatedly and bleeding copiously, he returned to what little cover the remaining men had, and continued the fight.
It was when Murph moved out of Luttrell’s line of sight to slightly higher ground that he gave his life for his men; for his country. Suddenly, Murph began screaming for Luttrell. The screams went on as Luttrell attempted to lay down cover fire, wholly unable to move from his own position. Then they stopped.
On June 28, 2005, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy gave his life in defense of his men, in defense of his country. He left behind a fiancée, Heather Duggan, his parents Daniel and Maureen, and his younger brother, John. But he also left behind a legacy, one of heroism and self-sacrifice. A legacy that will live on forever.
Murph was The Protector. An American Hero. A man of extraordinary courage. His sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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