By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 4, 2007
"Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). A profound truth, this. And exemplified supremely in God the Son's laying down His life for us, whom He has lifted to the astonishing height of being called- and being-His friends.
In the war against Islamic terrorism currently being waged in the Middle East an outstanding example of the above-cited truth was recently recognized with the posthumous awarding of the United States Gold Medal of Honor to Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy of Long Island, New York. Lieutenant Murphy is a genuine hero in an age that is cynical about heroes. But he was the real thing, a man who was willing to sacrifice himself without limit for a cause higher than himself and for his friends. His inspiring example is a silent rebuke to the "What's in it for me?" mentality that is prevalent today. As such his story deserves to be widely known. Most of the media gave it front and center coverage, though evidently it didn't meet the standard of "All the news that's fit to print" for the New York Times.
The following account appeared in the weekend issue (October 27th and 28th) of The Wall street Journal.
* * * * *Lone Survivor
By Mark Lasswell
At the White House on Monday, the parents of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy received the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to their son. One of his former SEAL teammates, Marcus Luttrell, was on hand in the East Room but not entirely there. As a military aide read the citation extolling Lt. Murphy for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life during a ferocious fire-fight in Afghanistan in 2005," Mr. Luttrell's mind was firmly back in the mountains of the Hindu Kush on the day that Lt. Murphy died.
"Somebody had to tap me on the shoulder to bring me back. I kind of zoned out," Mr. Luttrell recalled in an interview two days after the ceremony. As he spoke, his thoughts seemed to drift back to the battle again. "I remember how loud it was. And I remember our lungs being on fire"--but here he paused, then added: "I was thinking that nobody can have any idea what happened up on that mountain that day."
The bare outlines are harrowing enough. A four- man contingent of Navy SEALs was inserted by helicopter at night on June 28, 2005, in the desolate mountain region near the border with Pakistan. The men were: Mr. Luttrell, a hospital corpsman second class at the time; Gunner's Mate Second Class Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician Second Class Matthew Axelson; and Lt. Michael Murphy, the officer in charge and one of Mr. Luttrell's closest friends. They were on a reconnaissance mission, trying to locate a guerilla commander who was aligned with the Taliban.
The SEALs scrambled across the unforgiving terrain toward their target, but after daylight broke the mission started to go awry. Three goat herders-and their goats-happened upon the SEALS. The Americans recognized that they had a potentially lethal problem: the herders glowering at them were likely Taliban sympathizers who would report the Americans'presence.
With deep misgivings, the SEALs resolved to let the herders go..... Radio communications problems prevented the SEALs from calling headquarters for assistance; moving across the mountainsides with little cover in daylight would almost certainly attract enemy attention. All they could do was hunker down. And then the shooting started. Dozens of Taliban fighters had taken up a position above the SEALS and were pouring lead down on them.
Over the next two hours, a terrible dance unfolded. Swarming Taliban fighters would try to slide down the mountain slopes on either side of the SEALS, who furiously picked them off until the Americans were nearly overwhelmed by force of numbers; then the SEALS would fling themselves blindly down the mountain, hoping to alight still alive, with a little cover, so they could take up the fight again.
After a series of these desperate plunges, the SEALS were in a grim state: shot up, hit by the shrapnel of rocket-propelled grenades, running out of ammunition, Danny Dietz died first-he had been badly wounded, but then was shot fatally as Mr. Luttrell tried to help him to safety.
As Mr. Luttrell recounts in "Lone Survivor. The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10," his book about the episode, the remaining three SEALs final plunge down the mountain landed them in a ravine. Matthew Axelson was grievously wounded and would die that day. Lt. Murphy, bleeding from a stomach wound, "groped in his pocket for his mobile phone, the one he had dared not use because it would betray our position," Mr. Luttrell writes, "And then Lieutenant Murphy walked out into the open ground. He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, an he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ."
Any act of heroic battlefield self-sacrifice is almost incomprehensible to those whom soldiers fight to protect, but the fact that Lt. Murphy was performing such a familiar task-moving out into an open space seeking a cell-phone signal-under such murderous circumstances lends his actions an almost unbearable poignancy. While he was on the phone, calling for help, Lt. Murphy was shot in the back, the bullet exiting through his chest, yet he continued to talk- even, astonishingly-finishng the conversation: "Roger that, sir. Thank you. "
But it was too late. SEALs Murphy and Axelson were killed, and then the day's disaster was compounded when an MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying a quick-response force was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade during a rescue effort, killing 16.
It was the worst single day of American fatalities of the war in Afghanistan, and the worst loss of life in SEAL history. But Mr. Luttrell miraculously survived the fight in the mountains. Just as the SEALs were making their last stand, with Taliban fighters closing in, he was blown from the ravine to relative safety by a grenade explosion.
With three broken vertebrae, badly wounded and barely able to walk, he eluded the enemy for the better part o ffour days, three of them under the care of villagers who took him in and were then obliged to defend their guest against all threats-even against the Taliban fighters who discovered Mr. Luttrell's whereabouts. The Taliban menaced the village, but, loath to create enemies in a region where they rely on local assistance, never attacked. Mr. Luttrell was rescued by U.S. forces on July 2....
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 to look 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....
Hollywood, he says, has no idea what war is like. That's why he's wary of negotiations currently underway 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."....