Memorial Day is the U.S. holiday for remembering the members of the armed forces who died while serving this nation. Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday was begun after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while in military service.
Nearly 1.4 million Americans have died in service to the nation, from the Revolution to the War on Terror. It is a long list. Too, there are nearly 41,000 still missing, largely from World War II and enough to fill Chicago’s Wrigley Field. American war dead approximate the present-day population of Suffolk County on New York’s Long Island.
One of those killed in battle, Navy Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, was himself a son of Suffolk County. Lt. Murphy was a Navy SEAL who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his astonishing bravery and selflessness. His award citation reads, in part, as follows:
“Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men. When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain, and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team. In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom. By his selfless leadership, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Lt. Murphy’s four-man team was discovered by goat herders, thereby compromising their mission to locate a senior Taliban commander. It was Murphy’s decision as the officer-in-charge to release the unarmed men and risk disclosure of their presence to the Taliban. The Taliban were in fact notified by the released herders, and a vicious firefight ensued. Badly outnumbered, the SEALs inflicted heavy casualties before finally succumbing to the overwhelming firepower of the enemy. In placing an unsecured cell phone call requesting urgent support, the exposed Lt. Murphy was shot multiple times. His last words on the call were, “Thank you.” He died on June 28, 2005, on that mountain with two of his SEAL brothers.
Lt. Murphy’s exploits are well chronicled in the movie Lone Survivor, as well as the bestselling book of the same title.
Thank you, Lt. Michael P. Murphy, for your sacrifice. Thank you, as well, for representing on this Memorial Day not just your fallen SEAL brothers, but those 1.4 million Americans who were also killed in action. Thank you for your willingness to risk all, and in doing so, your joining the list of the revered.
Our country was enriched by your life and shielded by your sacrifice.
I salute you. All of you on that long list. From Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Hue City, Fallujah, and Asadabad. All of you on all of those battlefields, and at sea, and in the air, all of you who gave that last full measure. Let us stop and honor you for the way you have honored us. May you rest in peace.