SEAL to get first Medal of Honor for Afghanistan

Times Staff Writer

A Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the first such award for troops serving in Afghanistan and the first for a SEAL since the war in Vietnam, the White House announced Thursday.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, who had SEAL training here and was assigned to a SEAL team in Hawaii, was killed in June 2005 during a mission in the Hindu Kush mountains to find a key Taliban leader.

Ambushed by insurgents, Murphy’s four-man SEAL team engaged in a fierce firefight and was in danger of being overrun.


Although he was wounded, Murphy risked his life to save fellow SEALs and then maneuvered into an open position to send out an emergency call and to continue firing at the enemy. While making the call, he was hit again.

Only one of the SEALs on the team survived. Eight other SEALs and eight soldiers aboard a MH-47 Chinook helicopter sent to rescue Murphy’s team also were killed when the craft was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The incident was the worst single-day loss of life for Navy Special Warfare personnel since World War II.

“Mike Murphy was a true warrior, a true leader. No one cared more about his men than he did,” said a SEAL officer who asked to be identified only as Sean. Because their missions are secret, SEALs prefer to remain anonymous to the public.

President Bush will present the Medal of Honor to Murphy’s parents on Oct. 22 at the White House.

Only two other military personnel -- Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith -- have been awarded the nation’s highest honor for bravery for actions undertaken since Bush sent troops into Afghanistan in 2001. Both of those awards were for bravery in Iraq and were posthumous.

The three other members of Murphy’s team -- Matthew Axelson, 25, and Danny Dietz, 31, who were both killed, and Marcus Luttrell, 32 -- have each been awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor.

Luttrell is the author of “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.”

Murphy grew up on Long Island and graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1998 with degrees in political science and psychology. He was commissioned a Navy ensign in 1999 and graduated from SEAL training in Coronado in 2001.

His father, Daniel, an attorney and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, said the assignment to Afghanistan was particularly important to his son. Murphy had friends in the New York police and fire departments and wore an NYFD patch on his uniform.

“He told me, ‘We’re going where the people who planned, plotted and recruited for 9/11 are,’ ” Daniel Murphy said.

Murphy’s mother, Maureen, said the Medal of Honor meant that “now the world will know what his family has always known: how special he was.”

At the SEAL base in Coronado, Murphy and his teammates were the subject of numerous conversations as word of the White House announcement circulated.

Though SEALs’ grief lingers, they preferred to praise Murphy’s steely determination and leadership.

“I’ll remember him and those other guys every day of my life,” said Cory, a SEAL petty officer first class.