HONOLULU – Hundreds of sailors, Marines and veterans attended a tearful memorial service Monday to honor five Navy SEALs (search) killed last month in related battle and rescue missions in Afghanistan.
The crowd filled the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific as the bagpipe sounds of "Amazing Grace" echoed inside the extinct volcanic crater known as Punchbowl.
"Each was doing what he loved. Each was a great American, a hero. Each was protecting our way of life," Gov. Linda Lingle (search) said.
The five were part of Pearl Harbor's Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (search) and represented the team's largest loss of life since World War II.
"There's no greater honor for a man to have the opportunity and the privilege to be the commander of such brave men and be associated with them," said Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, Calif., were members of a four-man special forces team that went missing after an ambush in the rugged mountains in eastern Afghanistan.
Axelson's body was found Sunday, ending a desperate search for the final unaccounted for member of the special forces team. Only one of the four was rescued; the other three died in battle.
A helicopter loaded with U.S. troops that then went to rescue the SEALs was shot down by enemy fire June 28; 16 died in the crash, the deadliest single attack on the U.S. military in that country since the war on terror began in 2001.
Three of the helicopter victims — also Pearl Harbor SEALs — were among those honored at the ceremony: Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, N.H.; Petty Officer 2nd Class James E. Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Shane E. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nev.
"Dan, Shane and James were going in to save their teammates," said Cmdr. Todd DeGhetto, commander of the SEAL team. "Nothing was going to stop them. They gave their very last breath for their brothers."
The service included eulogies from fellow SEALs, a 21-gun salute, a flyover by four Black Hawk helicopters and ended with a bugler playing "Taps."
In addition to the standard rifle and boots memorials, draped with orchid lei, there were five sets of swim fins, life jackets and face masks and inscribed K-bar knives, which represented the fallen SEALs and were presented to the families.