This Day in History: Michael P. Murphy’s heroism in Afghanistan

On this day in 1976, a future Medal of Honor recipient is born. U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy would become the first sailor to receive the Medal since the Vietnam War.

It’s been said that Murphy’s “death was cut from the same cloth as his life.” Indeed, the young Lieutenant had long been known as the “Protector” among his family and friends. He was that guy at school—and in life—who stood up to bullies. No one would be battered or harassed in his presence. “That was Michael’s way,” his father would conclude.

It was a way that continued, even after college.

Murphy could have chosen an easier path. He’d graduated from Penn State in 1998 and could have gone to law school. He could have married his college girlfriend and had a family. But that wasn’t “Michael’s way.” Instead, he chose to serve. He became a Navy SEAL.

Which is how he found himself leading a four-man Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Early in that reconnaissance mission, the SEALs accidentally stumbled upon three goat herders. Those goat herders apparently reported the presence of the SEALs to the Taliban.

Murphy’s team assumed a defensive position on a mountain, but an approximate 80 to 100 Taliban fighters soon found them and attacked. A tremendous firefight ensued. Our SEALs kept taking out the enemy—by the dozens—but still reinforcements just kept coming.

The SEALs fell back repeatedly, sliding and falling down the mountain. They were beat up and bruised. Bones were broken. Three of the four, including Murphy, had been shot. Yet they kept fighting.

“It was like the world was blowing up around us,” one SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, described, “with the flying rock splinters, some of them pretty large, clattering off the cliff walls; the ricocheting bullets; the swirling dust cloud enveloping the shrapnel and covering us, choking us, obscuring everything.”

Our SEALs were cornered. By then, one had been killed, but three remained standing. Murphy knew what he had to do. He fished a mobile phone out of his pocket. He walked out into a clearing to get a signal, and he placed a call.

Luttrell was stunned.

“I knew what Mikey had done,” he later wrote. “He’d understood we had only one realistic chance, and that was to call in help. He also knew there was only one place from which he could possibly make that cell phone work: out in the open, away from the cliff walls. Knowing the risk, understanding the danger, in the full knowledge the phone call could cost him his life, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, son of Maureen, fiancé of the beautiful Heather, walked out into the firestorm.”

Murphy’s call went through. But as he was talking, he was hit in the back. The shock of it caused him to drop the phone. But he picked it back up and finished the call. “Roger that, sir. Thank you,” he was heard to say before he hung up.

Murphy resumed fighting, but he wouldn’t live much longer. “The Protector” had put his life on the line for his friends—and then he’d given that life.

“[H]is grace and upbringing never deserted him,” President George W. Bush would later say as he presented the Medal to Murphy’s family. “Though severely wounded, he said ‘thank you’ before hanging up, and returned to the fight—before losing his life. . . . Our nation is blessed to have volunteers like Michael who risk their lives for our freedom.”

P.S. Yes, there was (only) one survivor: Luttrell. But his story is one for another day.

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