Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy > US Department of Defense > History
Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy was a strong advocate for others—a trait that likely led to him joining the Navy and becoming one of the service’s elite SEALs. In Afghanistan, he gave his life to save his team members from overwhelming force. That sacrifice made him the first sailor since Vietnam to earn the Medal of Honor, and it inspired a truly successful Memorial Day challenge.
Murphy was born on 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 started standing up for others at an early age – his family said he got into fights at school while standing up for a pupil with a disability.
After graduating from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994, Murphy went to Penn State University. He played ice hockey while there and was watched during the summers. In 1998, he obtained two degrees with honors, one in political science and the other in psychology.
Murphy got accepted to a few law schools, but he chose a different path — he wanted to become a Navy SEAL. He underwent mentoring sessions at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, before being accepted into the Officer Candidate School in September 2000. He was commissioned into the Navy in December.
By July 2002, Murphy had earned his trident, passing all the courses required to become a SEAL. It first deployed to Jordan in October 2002, followed by several deployments to Qatar and Djibouti.
In early 2005, Murphy was appointed assistant officer in charge of Alfa Platoon, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1. They quickly deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
On June 27, 2005, Murphy participated in Operation Red Wings as the leader of a special reconnaissance team. Their mission: 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 in the high mountains when they encountered three goat herders, whom they interrogated and released. It is believed that these men sympathized with the enemy and denounced the Americans to the Taliban. As a result, up to 40 enemy fighters swarmed the steep mountain face where Murphy and his team were, and a massive firefight ensued.
All four SEALs were wounded quickly, but they refused to give up the fight. Ignoring his own injuries, Murphy encouraged his men to stay strong and began calling for help to get them out. His calls weren’t going through, however, probably because of the distant terrain. So Murphy made his way into open territory to find a better position to deliver a call.
Despite direct enemy fire, Murphy managed to make contact with relief forces to advise them of their position and request immediate support. At some point during the call, he was shot in the back and dropped the transmitter. But he took it back, ended the call and fired back at the enemy. Despite serious injuries, he then returned to take cover with the other men.
In response to his rescue call, an MH-47 Chinook helicopter with eight other SEALs and eight Army special operators was dispatched to extract the four men. However, as it closed in on combat, it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed, killing all 16 men on board.
Back on the ground, Murphy and the others continued to fight. For two hours the men fought the incoming enemy through hills and cliffs. Eventually, however, Murphy, Dietz, and Axelson were killed.
A rocket-propelled grenade knocked Luttrell over a ridge and knocked him unconscious. When he awoke, the badly injured SEAL was able to evade the enemy and find friendly locals who hid him in a nearby village for days. On July 2, 2005, American forces were able to rescue him, all thanks to this call made by Murphy.
The remains of Murphy, Dietz and Axelson were also recovered. Murphy is buried at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton, New York, less than 20 minutes from his childhood home.
The 2005 shooting was the greatest loss of life for Naval Special Warfare since World War II. The only consolation that could have been taken from this was that during the battle the four men on the ground took out about 35 Taliban fighters.
For Murphy’s selfless leadership and courage, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His parents received him from President George W. Bush in a ceremony at the White House on October 22, 2007. Murphy was the first person to fight in Afghanistan to receive the nation’s highest honor for bravery.
Luttrell later said of his countryman, “Mikey was the finest officer I ever knew, an iron-souled warrior of colossal and almost unbelievable courage in the face of the enemy.”
Murphy has been commemorated in many ways since the story of their ordeal was first told. Over the years, a crossfit-style workout has become a popular challenge among fitness enthusiasts to do on Memorial Day to honor fallen service members. He is now known as “The Murph” in honor of Murphy, and he supports the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation.
The USS Michael Murphy guided-missile destroyer was commissioned in 2012 in his honor.
Luttrell also wrote a book about their ordeal, titled “Lone Survivor”, which was made into a box office hit movie. 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 more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have won the highest medal of bravery in the US army.