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Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy

Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy was an avid defender of others — a trait that likely led him to join the Navy and become one of the service's elite SEALs. In Afghanistan, he gave his life to save his team members from an overwhelming force. That sacrifice made him the first sailor since Vietnam to earn the Medal of Honor, and it inspired a Memorial Day challenge that's really caught on. 

Murphy was born May 7, 1976, in Smithtown, New York. When he was still very young, his parents, Dan and Maureen, moved him and his brother, John, to Patchogue on Long Island. Murphy was good at sports, and he began sticking up for others at an early age — his family said he got into a fight at school while defending a student with disabilities.  

A man in uniform and dress cap poses for a photo.
Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy
Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a SEAL from Patchogue, N.Y., earned the Medal of Honor for actions he took to help save his team during a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan, June 28, 2005. Murphy was killed while fighting enemy forces.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 200723-N-SH402-1058C

After graduating from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994, Murphy went to Penn State University. He played ice hockey while there and lifeguarded during the summers. In 1998, he graduated with honors with two degrees, one in political science and one in psychology.  

Murphy was accepted into a few law schools, but he decided on a different path — he wanted to become a Navy SEAL. He took mentoring sessions at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, before being accepted into Officer Candidate School in September 2000. He was commissioned into the Navy that December.  

By July 2002, Murphy had earned his trident, making it through all the courses required to become a SEAL. He deployed for the first time to Jordan in October 2002, followed by more deployments to Qatar and Djibouti.  

Two men in combat gear sit in the dirt.
Taking a Break
Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, left, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson take a break while in Afghanistan. Both men, who were assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, were killed by enemy forces during a reconnaissance mission on June 28, 2005. Murphy earned the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 200723-N-SH402-1064A

In early 2005, Murphy was assigned as the assistant officer in charge of Alfa Platoon, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1. They soon deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 

On June 27, 2005, Murphy took part in Operation Red Wings as the leader of a special reconnaissance team. Their mission: to locate Ahmad Shah, a high-level anti-coalition militia leader in the Hindu Kush mountain range east of Asadabad. With him were three fellow SEALs: Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz,  Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson and  Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell. 

The following day, the four men were in a rugged, enemy-controlled area high in the mountains when they came across three goat herders, who they questioned and let go. It's believed that those men sympathized with the enemy and reported the Americans to the Taliban. As a result, up to 40 enemy fighters swarmed the steep face of the mountain where Murphy and his team were located, and a massive firefight ensued.  

A man in combat gear looks at the camera while standing on a mountain.
Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy
Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a SEAL from Patchogue, N.Y., was killed during a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan, June 28, 2005, while leading a four-man team tasked with finding a key Taliban leader. Murphy posthumously earned the Medal of Honor.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 200723-N-SH402-1061C

All four SEALs were injured quickly, but they refused to give up the fight. Ignoring his own wounds, Murphy encouraged his men to stay strong and began calling for help to get them out of there. His calls weren't going through, though, likely because of the remote terrain. So, Murphy fought his way toward open territory to find a better position to transmit a call. 

Despite taking on direct enemy fire, Murphy managed to get in touch with backup forces to give them their location and ask for immediate support. At one point during the call, he was shot in the back and dropped the transmitter. But he picked it back up, finished the call and fired back at the enemy. Despite severe wounds, he then made his way back to cover with the other men. 

In response to his rescue call, a MH-47 Chinook helicopter with eight more SEALs and eight Army special operators was sent in to extract the four men. However, as it got closer to the fight, it was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed, killing all 16 men onboard.  

A sailor and a woman in sunglasses carry a large bouquet of flowers.
Wreath Ceremony
Navy Force Master Chief Steven Studdard, left, and the wife of fallen Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey S. Taylor, carry a wreath during a ceremony at Naval Special Warfare Command to honor the men of Operation Red Wings. Jeffrey Taylor was killed during an operation to attempt to rescue a four-man SEAL team tasked with finding a key Taliban leader in the mountainous terrain near Asadabad, Afghanistan. The operation claimed the lives of 11 Navy SEALs and eight Army special operations soldiers.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 110628-N-JN023-040

Back on the ground, Murphy and the others continued to fight. Over the span of two hours, the men battled the incoming enemy across hills and over cliffs. Eventually, though, Murphy, Dietz and Axelson were killed.  

A rocket-propelled grenade blasted Luttrell over a ridge and knocked him out. When he woke up, the seriously injured SEAL was able to evade the enemy and find some sympathetic locals who hid him in a nearby village for days. On July 2, 2005, U.S. forces were able to rescue him — all thanks to that call Murphy made.  

The remains of Murphy, Dietz and Axelson were also recovered. Murphy is buried in Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton, New York, less than 20 minutes from his childhood home.  

The 2005 firefight was the single largest loss of life for Naval Special Warfare since World War II. The only solace that might have been gained from it was that, during the battle, the four men on the ground took out about 35 Taliban fighters. 

A woman holds a plaque that two men beside her look at.
Medal Ceremony
President George W. Bush stands with Dan and Maureen Murphy, parents of Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, after the SEAL was honored posthumously with the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony, Oct. 22, 2007.
Photo By: Joyce N. Boghosian, White House
VIRIN: 071022-O-D0439-038
Three people sit beside each other. A woman in the middle holds a folded flag.
Flag Ceremony
Dan and Maureen Murphy, the parents of Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, sit next to Navy Sec. Donald C. Winter, right, during their son's Medal of Honor flag ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial, Oct. 23, 2007. Lt. Murphy, a Navy SEAL, was killed in 2005 during a firefight in Afghanistan.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin O'Brien
VIRIN: 071023-N-D0439-365

For Murphy's selfless leadership and courage, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His parents received it from President George W. Bush during a White House ceremony on Oct. 22, 2007. Murphy was the first person to fight in Afghanistan to be awarded the nation’s highest honor for valor.  

Luttrell later said of his compatriot, "Mikey was the best officer I ever knew, an iron-souled warrior of colossal and almost unbelievable courage in the face of the enemy."  

Murphy has been memorialized in many ways since the story of their ordeal was first told. Over the years, a crossfit-style workout became a popular challenge among fitness buffs to do on Memorial Day to honor fallen service members. It's now known as "The Murph" in honor of Murphy, and it supports the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation.  

Three people look at a portrait of a man on an easel that’s being revealed by a woman.
Murphy Portrait
Daniel, John and Maureen Murphy (left, respectively) look on as artist Yoni Park reveals a portrait of their son and brother, Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed during a mission in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Murphy earned the Medal of Honor for his actions to try to save his four-man team.
Photo By: Navy Lt. Sean P. Riordan
VIRIN: 100507-N-D0439-001A

The guided missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy was commissioned in 2012 in his honor.  

Luttrell also wrote a book about their ordeal, called "Lone Survivor," which was made into a movie that found box office success. Actor Taylor Kitsch played Murphy, while Mark Wahlberg played Luttrell.  

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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