Daniel and Maureen Murphy always knew that their son, U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, was the kind of man who would give his own life to save the lives of others. And it will be with enormous pride that they accept from President Bush next week the nation’s highest combat award — the Medal of Honor.
“It just captures everything — how he lived his life,” Maureen Murphy told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Wednesday. “He was very honorable. He was just a good kid and he grew up to be a wonderful man. Getting that medal just shows everybody what kind of man he was.”
He demonstrated that in June of 2005 in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, when he and his team of three other Navy SEALs were on the trail of Taliban insurgents. Two goat herders chanced upon the group, and Murphy, 29, had two choices: He could order the two civilians killed in violation of everything he had been taught and believed in, or he could let them go, knowing they could alert local Taliban fighters of the presence of the SEAL team, putting their lives in jeopardy.
Murphy let them go, because to kill them was to commit murder.
“Michael’s moral compass was 100 percent on,” Daniel Murphy, who was wounded himself while serving in Vietnam, said of his son. “It would never even cross his mind to injure a noncombatant.”
In a short time, scores of Taliban fighters surrounded the patrol. The team needed help — fast — and Murphy, already wounded once, stepped out into the open to use his satellite phone to call for help.
“He took two rounds to the back, and dropped down on a rock,” said Murphy’s best friend, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, who would write a book — “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” — about the incident. “He sat back up, picked the phone back up and started talking again.”
Murphy died that day along with the other two members of the team and 16 other servicemen in a helicopter that was sent to rescue them. Wounded, Luttrell crawled seven miles to a village, where sympathetic Afghanis tended his wounds and hid him from the Taliban.
Luttrell’s account of Murphy’s heroism is confirmed by the Medal of Honor, the first awarded for action in Afghanistan.
Daniel and Maureen Murphy were told first that their son had been involved in an action against the enemy and that one serviceman had survived. They knew it wasn’t Michael.
“We were never concerned about Michael’s being able to get out of a scrape,” Daniel Murphy told Lauer.
“We always worried about Michael putting himself in a position in order to save someone else. When we heard that there was a survivor, Maureen and I looked at each other and we knew it wasn’t Mike, because we knew Michael would be the last to leave.”
At least, he said, their son’s best friend and fellow SEAL, Luttrell, survived. “With God’s good grace, we got Marcus back, and we’re glad to have him,” Daniel Murphy said.
The Murphys, who have another son, Michael’s younger brother, John, live on Long Island, N.Y., where Michael had been a lifeguard as a teenager. Even then, they said, he was always looking out for others.
They grieve their loss, but feel enormous pride for the way Michael lived — and died.
“While I’m crying inside and my heart is breaking, my chest is puffed out, and I’m saying, ‘My son, this is what he did.’ And I hope the country realizes it and appreciates it,” Daniel Murphy said.
When he was told that his son would be awarded the Medal of Honor, Daniel Murphy told Lauer he was thrilled. “It’s the highest honor you can get as a combat person. Afghanistan was very personal to Michael, because he was, if nothing else, a New York boy and had a love for this city, and he and his team, Marcus included, knew they were going to Afghanistan after the people who plotted and attacked this city, and that appealed to him,” the father said.
“It’s a great award,” Michael’s brother John told Lauer. “It shows the world exactly what he was to us. He was a great man to us even before he was in the Navy; it shows everyone else what a great man he was.”
Lauer asked Daniel Murphy what he would say to the president when he accepts the medal.
“I’m going to say thank you,” he replied. “What else?”
Michael Murphy's team members — Matthew Axelson, 25, and Danny Dietz, 31, who were both killed, and Luttrell, 32 — have each been awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. Only Luttrell survived.