This past Monday Dan and Maureen Murphy — the parents of Lt. Michael Murphy — received the Medal of Honor that has been posthumously awarded to their son. Lt. Murphy is the Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan in the course of his incredibly valorous service. The photo above shows President Bush with the Murphys at the ceremony on Monday.
Lt. Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation is included with President Bush’s remarks in the White House transcript of the proceedings. Herb Denenberg captures a few details from the ceremony at the White House earlier this week (I’ve omitted a few of Denenberg’s items):
* The parents of Lt. Murphy handed the president a gold dog tag, a replica of the one Lt. Murphy wore in combat. The president immediately put it on under his shirt and wore it when presenting the Medal of Honor. The parents said they were deeply moved by the president’s gesture, and the president said that he was inspired by having the medal next to his chest.
* The parents said it was payback time for Lt. Murphy, who wanted to avenge the attack on his New York. Lt. Murphy’s father said, “He and his team knew they were going to the land of those that planned, plotted, recruited and attacked New York City. If anything Michael was a New York boy.”
* Mr. Bush told of Lt. Murphy growing up with a “powerful sense of what is right and wrong.” The only time his parents received a call from the school about him getting into trouble involved an incident when he got into a fight sticking up for a disabled kid.
* Mr. Bush also told how Lt. Murphy wore a New York City firehouse patch on his uniform to honor those who died on 9/11.
* Steve Dunleavy, a columnist for The New York Post, reported that Lt. Murphy’s favorite book was Gates of Fire, about how 500 Spartans fought 200,000 invading Persians at the battle of Thermopylae.
* Mr. Dunleavy made another powerful observation inspired by his presence at the ceremony: “In that moment under those dazzling chandeliers in the East Room of the White House, I suddenly wished the beautiful ceremony had been held in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Not to make a spectacle, but just so every one of those Hollywood bums who spew out idiocy to demoralize our troops could hear what a real American was made of.” When asked about the hate-America comments of the far left, Lt. Murphy’s father replied, “I don’t think they speak for America.”
* President Bush choked back tears as he summoned Lt. Murphy’s parents to receive the Medal of Honor. Mr. Bush said, “The story of his sacrifice humbles and inspires all who hear it. While their missions were often carried out in secrecy, their love of country and devotion to each other was always clear. On June 28, 2005, Michael would give his life for these ideals.”
We know of Lt. Murphy’s heroics thanks to Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of the firefight that took Lt. Murphy’s life. John Hinderaker and his Northern Alliance Radio mates interviewed Luttrell this past July and posted the podcast of the interview here. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries Mark Lasswell’s moving interview/profile of Luttrell, who attended the ceremony at the White House on Monday; the interview focuses on the impetus Luttrell has felt to carry on the memory of his fallen colleagues:
War veterans returning to civilian life commonly find themselves in jobs that are, in light of their recent battlefield experience, decidedly incongruous. For Mr. Luttrell, coming home after his discharge in June has meant an incongruity of a kind he would never have imagined. The former SEAL–a man with special-operations training in marksmanship and underwater demolition, a recipient of the Navy Cross for combat heroism, a warrior who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan–has been working for the past five months as a publicist. It is strictly a volunteer position and reluctantly undertaken, to be sure, and Mr. Luttrell has only one client: the memory of that terrible day in Afghanistan. He wants the world to know about the sacrifices of Lt. Murphy, of his two other dead SEAL teammates, and of the eight SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers killed in the failed helicopter rescue. It is a timely effort, coming during a period in this country when the heroism of American soldiers is not reliably noted, much less honored, in every corner.
“It’s not about me, it’s about my guys,” he says of his publicity labors since leaving the service. “It’s like the job I was doing before I got out. There were probably plenty of missions that I didn’t want to go on because I was tired or whatever, but I still did it. Because it’s not about me.”
Mr. Luttrell was born in Houston in 1975 but grew up in rural Texas on the horse farms his family owned, much of the time in the piney-woods country in the eastern part of the state. He would clearly rather do just about anything than talk to the media. At 6 feet 5 inches tall and well over 200 pounds, with long, cowboyish sideburns, he is Texas taciturn to begin with, and the secrecy of SEAL missions tends to make frogmen–as the naval Sea, Air, Land team-members call themselves–a less-than-loquacious bunch.
In the months following the mountain fight, queries from family and friends about the gun battle and debriefings following inaccurate news reports on the incident became such a distraction, Mr. Luttrell says, that it was difficult to concentrate on his SEAL duties.
“Normally I wouldn’t talk about any of our operations. This one wouldn’t leave me alone,” he says. “It kept banging on my door and I had to do something about it.” The solution, he thought, would be to set the facts down in print so that they would be on the public record. Then maybe he could move on.
With clearance from his superiors, Mr. Luttrell began looking into writing a book and was eventually put in touch with British writer Patrick Robinson, whose military thrillers often involve the U.S. Navy. Their collaboration, “Lone Survivor,” was published in June; it quickly became a nonfiction best seller.
“All I wanted to do was stop talking” about what happened in Afghanistan, Mr. Luttrell says, “and now I’m neck-deep in it.” Another frustration is the inadequacy of words to convey the experience. “I can sit here and tell you that I got into a gunfight,” Mr. Luttrell says, “but you can’t put it into words. Your heartbeat doesn’t raise, the hair on the back of your neck doesn’t stand up when I tell you that. When you’re out there–the stuff we get into–people get sick. You get so scared, you urinate on yourself. That’s fear.”
Hollywood, he says, has no idea what war is like. That’s why he’s wary of negotiations currently under way to film “Lone Survivor.” If it happens, he says with the trace of a grimace, he’ll probably “go out there and help,” otherwise it might turn into “a love story” or a special-effects extravaganza with “people spinning from wires, which it wasn’t. It was about death and people dying.”
It should be noted that Mr. Luttrell is giving away his income from “Lone Survivor,” reportedly putting it in a trust to aid military charities and the families of the dead soldiers, although now he says simply: “I’m in control of it so it goes to the right places.”
For now, Mr. Luttrell is heading back to East Texas. Not far from his parents’ place, he and his twin brother, Morgan–who followed him into the SEALs–own a ranch. The two men each have a large tattoo on their backs, one half of the trident badge awarded to newly minted SEALs. “When we come together, and it makes the whole thing, you’re like, ‘Oh, I know what that is.’ It was just something we did to honor all the guys who went before us and are here today. And it signifies that without him I’m only half a frogman.”
The ranch is devoted to rehabilitating sick and injured horses–about a dozen of them at any one time. The place is likely to be restorative for Mr. Luttrell, as well. “Out there it’s pretty peaceful and I work all the time,” he says. But he hasn’t been able to stay at home for more than a few days at a time since being plunged into “Lone Survivor” concerns.
“Being a civilian hasn’t set in just yet. Except when I try to get on a military base and I can’t because I don’t have an ID anymore.” When he feels especially troubled by thoughts about the firefight in the mountains, his instinct–as it is when dealing with his injuries, from which he is still recovering–is simply to “suck it up.” But sometimes he calls his old SEAL buddies. It’s not always easy to reach them. “I forgot how busy it is being a team guy.”
Lasswell’s profile concludes with a scene involving Lt. Murphy’s parents:
I talked to Mr. Luttrell at the Crystal Gateway Marriott hotel on Wednesday morning, not far from the Pentagon. In the lobby before the interview, it was the uniformed military personnel who caught the eye as they headed out the front door, most likely on their way to doing business at the Pentagon. The few civilian guests in evidence attracted less attention. A family was at the front desk checking out. And then there was the tall young man in blue jeans who was saying goodbye to a pleasant-looking older couple near the entrance. The woman in the couple was much shorter than the young man, who had to lean over–a little awkwardly, as if he had a tricky back–when he hugged her. Not a remarkable farewell scene in most hotels, but in this one it was unutterably moving.
Marcus Luttrell was saying goodbye to Dan and Maureen Murphy, Lt. Murphy’s parents. The parting wasn’t tearful; it was a cordial exchange between people who have a deep bond and who seem to know that they’ll be speaking again soon. Probably on Sunday, in fact. That’s the day, each week, when Mr. Luttrell calls the families–the other survivors.
To comment on this post, go here.