The USS Michael Murphy, a 510-foot destroyer, is being commissioned this weekend in New York City for a Long Island native and Navy lieutenant who became the first American awarded the Medal of Honor during the Afghanistan War when he was killed along with two fellow SEALs during an ambush in 2005. He was 29.
"Here is someone who is just like us," said Cmdr. Tom Shultz, the commander of the USS Michael Murphy and its crew of about 300. "We've seen his childhood photos and you look at those photos and in every single one of them we have that same photo of our childhood."
Already wounded, Murphy left a protected position and went to a clearing where he was exposed to gunfire to get a clear signal to contact Bagram Airfield for backup. He was killed along with 16 of his rescuers whose helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade on June 28, 2005. The only SEAL to survive has since written a book about the ordeal, "Lone Survivor," which is being made into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch.
The naming of a Navy vessel for Murphy is the greatest of a slew of tributes to the slain Navy SEAL since his death, said his father, Daniel Murphy. The former lifeguard has a park named after him on Long Island; the Patchogue post office in his hometown bears a monument to Murphy and the others who died; and Penn State University paid tribute to the 1998 graduate last month when it dedicated a veterans' plaza in his name.
Navy vessels traditionally bear the names of states or cities or noted Americans, such as former presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt. Others have been named for notable leaders like former senator and astronaut John Glenn or naval titans like former Adm. Hyman Rickover. The Navy announced this year that it would name a combat ship in honor of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in Arizona in 2011.
Murphy was leading a four-man team hunting a key Taliban leader in mountainous terrain near Asadabad in an encounter known as Operation Red Wing when they were ambushed by about 50 combatants. A wounded Murphy was credited with risking his own life by moving into the open for a better position to transmit a call for help.
He was shot in the back, causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing. After a two-hour gunfight, Murphy and two fellow SEALs were dead. About 35 Taliban were also killed. The fourth member of their team escaped and was protected by local villagers for several days before he was rescued.
Eight other Navy SEALs and eight members of the Army's elite Night Stalkers were then killed when their helicopter was shot down.
Daniel Murphy spoke at a memorial service this week at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, where his son is only Medal of Honor recipient buried there. The service was attended by two busloads of crew members from the USS Michael Murphy who placed leis in honor of all those killed in the battle. The ship's commander said leis were chosen because the $1.1 billion warship's home port will be in Hawaii.
"The crew has so much pride in the fact that they carry on their patch the name USS Michael Murphy," Dan Murphy said. "You know Michael grew up as an ordinary young man on Long Island and became a national hero. It's emotionally trying but fulfilling at the same time."
Murphy's mother, Maureen, who will preside at the Saturday ceremony commissioning the ship on the Hudson River, has received the honorary title of the ship's sponsor. "He was very humble, no matter what he did," she said of her son. "Michael would be very proud. He was always a very patriotic boy and respectful to people."
Her message to the crew: "I tell them you're family and you have to watch each other's backs."
Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, deputy commander of Naval Special Warfare's SEALs, also attended the memorial service honoring Murphy.
"Michael Murphy is a hero in our community. He's a hero in our Navy," Bonelli said. "But what's tremendous about having a ship named after him is his legacy will live on forever."
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