Opening in Movie theaters on January 10, 2014 “Lone Survivor” was the film adaptation of Chief Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell’s best-selling memoir, describing the heroism and sacrifice of a SEAL Reconnaissance Team in the Mountains of Afghanistan. The SEAL team was led by Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who would join the long list of Irish Americans who have earned our Nation’s highest honor by making the supreme sacrifice.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy was born May 7, 1976 in Smithtown, N.Y into a family where Irish traditions and the virtues of public service ran strong. His paternal grandfather was the quintessential “Irish American”, being literally born on the boat taking his family from Ireland to a new life in America. Murphy's grandfather would later serve as a member of the Fighting 69th in World War II. Murphy's father would volunteer for Viet Nam and be seriously wounded before returning home to a career as a Suffolk County Prosecutor. Murphy's Mother traced her roots back to relatives who were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and fought for Ireland's independence including one relative that had been in the GPO in 1916. In the suburban Long Island community of Patchogue Murphy grew up amongst family members and friends who were police officers and firefighters. It is small wonder that the need to serve others seem to be in his DNA.
Stories of Michael Murphy as a young boy depict a good-natured daredevil who excelled in spoils as well as academics, a varsity football player who earned a National Merit Scholarship. Yet even when very young, stories depict a young man of deep moral character. While in Middle School, Murphy's parents were called to the school because young Michael had been in a fight. It would turn out that Murphy confronted three other students who were bullying a disabled student. This would not be the first or the last time that the boy who seemed to naturally succeed at everything he tried would come to the aid of an underdog, well justifying his nickname of 'the Protector.'
Upon graduating from Penn State University with majors in Political Science and Psychology, Michael had offers to attend several law schools. However, again, the "call to serve" was too strong, and he selflessly put his promising, safe and secure personal future on hold to serve others. As per everything in his young life Murphy set his sights high and began training for one of the most elite military units in the world, the Navy SEALS, a program that despite stringent entrance requirements 85% of those accepted cannot complete the rigorous training. Murphy won his trident and was commissioned an Ensign, and would subsequently be promoted to Lieutenant. As a SEAL, Murphy served on missions in Jordan, Iraq (twice), Qatar, and Djibouti in East Africa.
In 2005, Lt. Murphy was deployed to Afghanistan and was the leader of a four-man SEAL squad. As a reminder to his team as to why they were in Afghanistan, Murphy wore the shoulder patch of Ladder 43/Engine 53 of the FDNY on his uniform. On June 27th, Murphy was given a mission, code named Operation Red Wings (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Operation Redwing”), to lead his squad into the 9,000-foot high mountains that form the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is search of a high-value Taliban target. Within hours after being secretly inserted into enemy territory, three local goat herders stumbled on Murphy’s squad. There was no way the four man squad could hold these civilians prisoner behind enemy lines. With full knowledge of the threat that these civilians posed to the security of himself and his team, Murphy followed the moral principles that had marked his life, releasing them with full knowledge of the risks involved rather than kill unarmed civilians. Murphy's humanity was repaid by betrayal; the goat herders immediately reported the SEALs presence to the Taliban.
Using their innate knowledge of the local terrain, an estimated 50 Taliban fighters surrounded Murphy's four-man squad. An intense firefight ensued. Despite having inflicted an estimated 35 enemy casualties, all four SEALs were wounded multiple times and were running low on ammunition as the Taliban continued to receive reinforcements. Attempts to contact their base for aid were ineffective, as the rock formation the team was using for cover was blocking transmission. Lt. Murphy, already severely wounded and knowing the risks, broke cover and walked into a fully exposed position to get the clear signal needed to make a call to his base for help. During the course of his message, Murphy was shot again in the back, causing him to drop his radio and rifle. He picked them both up and continued his message providing the information necessary so that his squad could receive support. He finished his message, severely wounded, with: "Roger that, sir. Thank you." Grievously wounded, Murphy returned to cover and his squad where he continued to engage the enemy until receiving another and fatal wound.
Sadly, the story of Operation Red Wings has no happy ending. An attempt was made to extract Murphy's squad, but the Helicopter carrying eight navy SEALS and eight Army Night Stalker commandos was itself ambushed as it attempted the rescue, killing all on board. Among the rescuers killed was Quartermaster 2nd Class James Sun, considered by many to be Murphy's best friend in the service. Eleven Navy SEALs were killed that day making it the deadliest in the history of the SEALs. Only one man, Corpsman First Class Marcus Luttrell, from Murphy's squad would survive the encounter though severely wounded; having been blown clear of the fighting after the explosion of a rocket propelled grenade. Luttrell has made it a personal mission to record the events of June 28, 2005 as a tribute to his comrades; it is upon Luttrell’s account the book and movie “Lone Survivor” are based.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy was awarded the first Medal of Honor to be presented for service in Afghanistan. Those who question America's moral compass would be well to remember the supreme price Murphy and his men paid for acting with morality and honor as opposed to the enemy who shortly after this battle posted videos on the internet of themselves looting and desecrating the bodies of these brave men. To us as Irish Americans, it is well to remember that our heritage and culture have helped form special Americans who have, and more importantly continue to, distinguish themselves in the service of their country.
Read Sarah Nagle's review of the "Lone Survivor" film.