VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Irish-American Heritage Month
An Old Irish Blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Irish-American Heritage Month is celebrated by proclamation of the President of the United States each year during March. Irish-Americans and their descendants, including numerous soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, have made tremendous contributions to the United States in countless categories. Significantly, the Medal of Honor, the highest award American fighting heroes can receive, has been awarded to more Irish-Americans than any other nationality. In addition to the Irish-American recipients accounting for more than half of these honors, several have been double recipients.
This month we have chosen to remember and honor Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, an Irish American and Medal of Honor recipient. Lieutenant Murphy was born and raised in Smithtown, New York on May 7, 1976 to Maureen and Daniel Murphy, both of Irish descent.
“Murph” was raised and attended public schools in Patchogue, NY, where his father was a district attorney. “Murph” or “the Protector,” as his friends called him, was a soccer player, football player and a summer lifeguard. He was well known in school and in his small community for having a keen sense of right and wrong, fairness and justice, and standing up for people who could not defend themselves. On at least two occasions he defended a homeless person in town who was being bullied and a special needs classmate who was being bullied by a group of other students, thus his label, “the Protector.” Many would consider “Murph” had a normal childhood in a stable home with a brother five years younger.
Upon graduation from high school, Mike attended Pennsylvania State University. He majored in Political Science and Psychology and toyed with the idea of following in his father’s footsteps and going to law school but another dream was drawing him strongly. One evening as he drove back to Penn State with his father, “Murph” shared his vision of becoming a US Navy SEAL. Although his father was a US Army Viet Nam Veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, his father attempted to discourage this dream but agreed to always support him.
Following graduation with honors from Pennsylvania State University in 1998, Mike bypassed his law school acceptances and attended SEAL mentoring sessions at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. He entered Officer Candidate School in September 2000 in Pensacola, Florida, and was commissioned an Ensign in December of 2000.
Following his commission, “Murph” began one of the most difficult trainings of all military services when he entered Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS/S) training in Coronado, California. It is well known that to become a US Navy SEAL takes tremendous mental acuity, physical strength and endurance. “Seals” are known as the toughest of the tough, with an annual dropout rate of seventy-four percent. Following BUD/S he attended US Army Airborne School, SEAL Qualification Training and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) School. He earned his SEAL Trident in 2002 and was assigned to SDV Team ONE, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Between 2002 and early 2005, Lt Murphy was deployed to Jordan, Iraq, Qatar, Djibouti and finally to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE and designated the officer in charge of ALPHA Platoon.
During June 2005 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, Lt Michael Murphy was assigned to lead Operation Red Wings. It was a four-man counter insurgent mission intended to seek out and either capture or kill (code name “Ben Sharmak”) Ahmad Shah, a fierce Taliban leader. Ahmad was educated, spoke five languages and was known as an Osama bin Laden associate.
The team of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, Corpsman Marcus Luttrell, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz and Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson were inserted by helicopter late the night of June 27, 2005. The terrain was rugged and most of the night it poured rain. During the morning hours of June 28, 2005, the SEAL team came upon some young goat herders. They eventually released the young goat herders, a decision that would impact their futures, and not long afterward they were engaged with a sizable Taliban force.
The four Navy SEALS fought valiantly and courageously, outnumbered and in a disadvantaged position below the enemy forces. While continuing to engage the enemy, Dietz attempted desperately to use his radio to call for reinforcements and extraction but was unsuccessful due to their low lying position.
Eventually, “Murph” made his way to unprotected high terrain and successfully made a radio call for help. A helicopter was dispatched to the scene but was shot down by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) killing all of the 16-member rescue team.
After hours of defending themselves against a heavy onslaught of Taliban far superior in numbers and fire power, the Taliban forces killed Lt. Michael Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz and Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson. Corpsman Marcus Luttrell escaped and was protected by a local village chief until he was rescued several days later.
President George W. Bush awarded Lt. Michael P. Murphy’s Medal of Honor posthumously to his parents on October 22, 2007:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and above and beyond the call of duty as the leader of a special reconnaissance element with Naval Special Warfare task unit Afghanistan on 27 and 28 June 2005. While leading a mission to locate a high-level anti-coalition militia leader, Lieutenant Murphy demonstrated extraordinary heroism in the face of grave danger in the vicinity of Asadabad, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. On 28 June 2005, operating in an extremely rugged enemy-controlled area, Lieutenant Murphy’s team was discovered by anti-coalition militia sympathizers, who revealed their position to Taliban fighters. As a result, between 30 and 40 enemy fighters besieged his four-member team. Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force. The ensuing fierce firefight resulted in numerous enemy casualties, as well as the wounding of all four members of the team. Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men. When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain, and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team. In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom. By his selfless leadership, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.