WASHINGTON – President Bush publicly honored a fallen Navy SEAL Monday by presenting his grieving parents with the Medal of Honor — and privately honored their sacrifice by wearing a dogtag they'd given him moments before.
An emotional White House ceremony awarded posthumously the nation's highest military honor for valor to Lt. Michael Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y. — the first given for combat in Afghanistan.
Before the emotional ceremony, Murphy's parents Dan and Maureen Murphy met with President Bush and gave him a gold dog tag in tribute to their son.
"What we were most touched by was that the president immediately put that on underneath his shirt, and when he made the presentation of the Medal of Honor, he wore that against his chest," said the father.
After the ceremony, Dan Murphy said, Bush told the family: "I was inspired by having Michael next to my chest."
The father, who fought back tears during the ceremony, said they were "deeply moved" by Bush's gesture.
"It was very emotional on everybody's part," said Maureen Murphy.
Bush presided over a solemn ceremony honoring their son's battlefield decision to expose himself to deadly enemy fire in order to make a radio call for help for his elite combat team.
"While their missions were often carried out in secrecy, their love of country and devotion to each other was always clear," President Bush said. "On June 28, 2005, Michael would give his life for these ideals."
Murphy's parents both cried at points in the ceremony as they stood next to the president and listened to their son's heroism recounted.
"There's a lot of awards in the military, but when you see a Medal of Honor, you know whatever they went through is pretty horrible. You don't congratulate anyone when you see it," said Marcus Luttrell, the lone member of Murphy's team to survive the firefight with the Taliban.
Murphy, Luttrell and two other SEALs were searching for a terrorist when their mission was compromised after they were spotted by locals, who presumably alerted the Taliban to their presence.
An intense gun battle ensued, with more than 50 anti-coalition fighters swarming around the outnumbered SEALs.
Although wounded, Murphy is credited with risking his own life by moving into the open for a better position to transmit a call for help.
Still under fire, Murphy provided his unit's location and the size of the enemy force. At one point he was shot in the back, causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in.
He then returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle. A U.S. helicopter sent to rescue the men was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all 16 aboard. It was the worst single-day death toll for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
By the end of the two-hour gunfight, Murphy and two of his comrades were also dead. An estimated 35 Taliban were also killed. Luttrell was blown over a ridge and knocked unconscious. He escaped, and was protected by local villagers for several days before he was rescued.
Murphy, who died before his 30th birthday, is the fourth Navy SEAL to earn the award and the first since the Vietnam War. Two Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously in the Iraq war: to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, who was killed in 2004 after covering a grenade with his helmet, and to Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who was killed in 2003 after holding off Iraqi forces with a machine gun before he was killed at the Baghdad airport.
Murphy's heroics have been widely recognized on Long Island, where he graduated in 1994 from Patchogue-Medford High School.
To his fellow SEALs, he was known as "Murph," but as a child, his parents nicknamed him "The Protector," because of his strong moral compass. After the 2001 terror attacks, that compass eventually led him to Afghanistan, where he wore a patch of the New York City Fire Department on his uniform.
"He took his deployment personally. He was going after, and his team was going after, the men who planned, plotted against and attacked not only the United States, but the city he loved, New York," said his father. "He knew what he was fighting for."