Lt. Michael P. Murphy — born in Smithtown, N.Y., on 7 May 1976 — grew up in the New York City commuter town of Patchogue, Long Island, N.Y. Murphy participated 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, returning to that position each summer through his college years. Murphy graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994. He attended Penn State University, where he excelled as an all-around athlete—especially in ice hockey—and student, graduating with honors. He read voraciously; his reading tastes ranged from the Greek historian Herodotus to Count Lev N. “Leo” Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Murphy’s favorite book was Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, about the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. Murphy graduated with two Bachelor of Arts degrees — in political science and psychology — in 1998.
Several law schools accepted Murphy but he set his sights on joining the Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) teams. Slightly built at 5 feet 10 inches, Murphy decided to attend SEAL mentoring sessions at the Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y. He accepted an appointment to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, Pensacola, Fla. (September2000). Murphy was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy (13 December 2000), and began Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training at Coronado, Calif. (January 2001), graduating with Class 236.
Upon graduation from BUD/S, he attended the Army Jump School, SEAL Qualification Training, and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) school. Murphy earned his SEAL Trident and joined SDV Team (SDVT) 1 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (July 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, Murphy served with Special Operations Central Command in Florida, and deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He then assisted in the operational planning of future SDV missions while deployed to Djibouti, Horn of Africa.Murphy was assigned to SDVT-1 as assistant officer in charge of Alfa Platoon (early 2005), and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Murphy served as the officer-in-charge of a four-man SEAL element in support of Operation Redwing (27–28 June 2005). His orders directed him to find a key Taliban commander inthe mountainous terrain near Asadabad, Afghanistan. Shortly after the SEALs inserted into the objective area, three goat herders spotted the Americans, who detained and then released the Afghans. The herdsmen (apparently) immediately reported the SEALs’ presence to the Taliban.
A battle erupted on the steep face of the mountain between the SEALs and a larger number of enemy militants, who fired AK-47 assault rifles, RPK light machine guns, RPG-7 rocket propelled grenades, and 82 millimeter mortars at the Americans. Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy risked his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Intent on making contact with headquarters but realizing the difficulty of gaining contact because of the extreme terrain, Murphy unhesitatingly and with complete 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 under fire, Murphy contacted and requested assistance from the Special Operations Forces Quick Reaction Force (QRF) at Bagram. He calmly provided his team’s location and estimated the number of militants while requesting immediate support. A round struck him in the back at one point, causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the approaching enemy.Severely wounded, Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.
As a result of Murphy’s call, a Boeing MH-47 Chinook helicopter of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), carrying eight additional SEALs of SDVT-1 and SEAL Team 10, and eight soldiers of the 160th,arrived 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 on board.
The four SEALs on the ground continued fighting but shot the last of their ammunition.Murphy and two of the other SEALs, Gunner’s Mate 2d Class Danny P. Dietz, Jr., and Sonar Technician 2d Class Matthew G. Axelson, died during the battle. A rocket-propelled grenade blasted the fourth SEAL, Hospital Corpsman 2d Class Marcus Luttrell, over a ridge, knocking him unconscious. Though severely wounded, Luttrell evaded the enemy for nearly a day; Afghan tribesmen then carried him to a nearby village, where they hid Luttrell from the Taliban until U.S. forces rescued him (2 July). The Americans killed an estimated 35 Taliban.
By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and inspirational devotion to his men in the face of certain death, Murphy conveyed the position of his team, an act that ultimately led to the rescue of Luttrell and the recovery of the remains of the three men who fell. Murphy received the Medal of Honor posthumously, and was buried at Calverton National Cemetery, less than 20 miles from his childhood home.
Mark L. Evans, Naval History and Heritage Command
Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN, Operation Red Wings, Summary of Action, June 28, 2005