Medal of Honor Recipient Michael P. Murphy

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military award offered by the United States. In this lesson we'll explore the life and military career of Navy SEAL Lieutenant and Medal of Honor Recipient Michael P. Murphy.

The Medal of Honor

Above and beyond the call of duty. That's a phrase we've heard before, but what does it mean? To the United States military, this idea is defined by gallantry, courage, and selflessness that far exceeds the ordinary efforts expected of military personnel, which are already pretty high. For those who demonstrate this level of service, the United States offers the Medal of Honor, the highest military award offered by the nation.

Only an exceptional few soldiers are presented this award, soldiers like Lt. Michael P. Murphy. A Navy SEAL officer in the War in Afghanistan, Lt. Murphy's level of service was deemed to be so far beyond the ordinary call of duty, even at the cost of his own life, that in 2007 he became the first member of the Navy to be recognized with the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy


Lt. Murphy was born in 1976 in Smithtown, New York. In middle school, he earned the nickname 'The Protector' amongst friends after stepping in to help a special needs student being bullied. Murphy graduated from Penn State in 1998, and despite being offered admission to several law schools, he started attending the US Merchant Marine Academy. In 2000, he accepted a position in the US Navy's Officer Candidate School.

Murphy was deployed to Qatar in 2002, and later to Afghanistan in 2005. During a mission in that year to capture one of the top Taliban leaders, Lt. Murphy and two other SEALs were killed in action. For their bravery, the other men were awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy's second-highest honor, and Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor, all-in-all making them the most decorated Navy SEAL team ever.

Lt. Murphy in Afghanistan

Medal of Honor Action

In June of 2005, Lt. Murphy and three other SEALs were dropped off in the mountainous territory near the Pakistan border. They were deep in Taliban-sympathetic territory when they were discovered by Taliban supporters. Soon, the four-man team was surrounded by roughly 40 Taliban fighters who pinned them down.

Against much larger numbers, Lt. Murphy maintained his composure, directing his small unit and engaging the enemy. Soon, all of the men were severely wounded. Lt. Murphy and his men inflicted heavy casualties upon their enemy, but they remained heavily outnumbered. Then, the soldier in charge of communicating with the Navy base was mortally wounded and Lt. Murphy took over the task of trying to call in for reinforcements. Unfortunately, the mountainous terrain made it difficult to get a signal out.

With exceptional resolve considering his injuries, Lt. Murphy fought his way out of the limited shelter they had and into a clearing where he could transmit a call. With no cover, and directly exposed to enemy fire, Lt. Murphy remained in the open until after he was finally able to contact headquarters, request support and give them the precise location and situation of his men. Official Navy reports assert that this decision must have been made under the near-certainty of death and purely for the sake of his men.

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