I couldn’t find a story about Lt. Michael Murphy winning the Medal of Honor in the New York Times on Friday, though other New York papers covered the story with pictures and headlines. The Times neglected even to note that Murphy, 29, who lived on Long Island, was a hometown hero, the first person to receive the highest battlefield honor for action in Afghanistan.
On Friday, the Times instead carried a story headlined “Marines to Conduct Inquiry Into the Killings of Afghan Civilians.” This story was about a court of inquiry being set up to examine the circumstances surrounding the killing of several Afghan civilians by members of a special-operations platoon, in a remote area of Afghanistan, near the border of Pakistan. Some of the Marines involved, who are an elite group of combat-tested troops, are now, of course, hiring their lawyers.
There is a very special irony is this. Why? Because Mikey Murphy and his three SEAL comrades, during their operation, were concerned about the potential of a story just like the one in the Times. They wanted to avoid a situation in which they would find themselves forced to defend a life saving action in a court of law.
According to Lone Survivor, the book written by Marcus Luttrell (with Patrick Robinson), the only SEAL to survive the operation, here is what happened: Dropped somewhere in the Hindu Kush, the team was preparing for action when three goatherds, a teen-ager and two men, came upon them by accident. Were they Taliban sympathizers? How should the three be treated? The four SEALS were not sure what to do.
If these three Afghans blew the whistle on us, we might all be killed, right here on this rocky, burning-hot promontory thousands and thousands of miles from home, light-years from help….The military decision was clear: these guys could not leave there alive… [But] Mikey was thoughtful… “When they find their bodies, the Taliban leaders will sing to the Afghan media. The media in the U.S.A. will latch on to it and write stuff about the brutish U. S. Armed Forces. Very shortly after that we’ll be charged with murder. The murder of innocent farmers.”
The SEALs tried to get through to Headquarters for advice on how to handle the situation, but they couldn’t get a response. They debated what to do, with one team member believing the goat herds should be shot. He argued, “We are on active duty behind enemy lines. We have the right to do everything we can to save our own lives.” Another abstained, saying he would go along with the group’s decision. Luttrell acknowledged he cast the deciding vote to let the Afghans go.
At the time Luttrell and Murphy, his best friend, knew that “a massive mistake had been made.” He writes, “I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant. I’d turned into a…liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgment of a jackrabbit.”
Within a couple of hours the SEALs were surrounded by dozens of Taliban.
During the battle, Murphy, the group’s commander, moved into the open, to a position where he could radio for help for the team. Without cover, he was shot in the back but finished the transmission. Luttrell writes that the mortally wounded Lieutenant’s last words were “Roger that, sir. Thank you.”
But the dying didn’t stop there. The helicopter that was sent to the team’s aid was shot down, killing all sixteen on board. The battle that day resulted in the largest loss of life for Navy Special Warfare personnel since World War II.
The Murphy family said in a statement: “The honor is not just about Michael, it is about his teammates and those who lost their lives that same day.” Too bad, the New York Times chose to report, yet again, another story implying that our troops are doing something wrong, while ignoring Michael Murphy’s extraordinary act of heroism.