On this Memorial Day weekend, we have a special chance to hear stories of the unimaginable courage, honor, and sacrifice of the U.S. military. Here's a haunting excerpt from Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor, one of those books offering a brief glimpse into the secret lives of these extraordinary warriors who eagerly put themselves in harm's way to protect the rest of us.Author Marcus Luttrell joined the U.S. Navy in March 1999, became a SEAL (SEa, Air, and Land) in January 2002, and was deployed to Afghanistan in the spring of 2005. His book, Lone Survivor, is published by Little, Brown, & Co., and inside the dust cover features this description:
"On a clear night in late June 2005, four U.S. Navy SEALs left their base in northern Afghanistan for the mountainous Pakistani border. Their mission was to capture or kill a notorious al Qaeda leader known to be esconced in a Taliban stronghold surrounded by a small but heavily armed force. Less than twenty-four hours later, only one of those Navy SEALs remained alive."
After their insertion by helicopter into a remote mountaintop region, the four SEALs-Leading Petty Officer Luttrell, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer Matthew Axelson, and Petty Officer Danny Dietz-encounter three local goatherds with a flock of 100 goats. Concerned about the likelihood that the goatherds will spread the word of the SEALs' presence but unwilling to harm unarmed civilians, the SEALs allow the three Afghan goatherds to go on their way.
They made that fateful decision knowing the likely repercussions. Here's Luttrell on the quandary the SEALs faced: "I just stood there, looking at their filthy beards, rough skin, gnarled hands, and hard, angry faces. These guys did not like us. They showed no aggression, but neither did they offer or want the hand of friendship. . . . If these Afghans blew the whistle on us, we might all be killed, right out here on this rocky, burning-hot promontory, thousands and thousands of miles from home, light-years from help. The potential force against us was too great. To let these guys go on their way was military suicide."
But let them go they did. And, fulfilling the SEALs' concerns, the heavily armed Taliban forces very shortly thereafter found and launched a vicious assault upon the four SEALs who were outnumbered about 35 to 1.
As the battle rages on the steep cliffs of the Hindu Kush, and as all of the SEALs have sustained grievous gunshots and other wounds, Lieutenant Murphy realizes that the only way he'll be able to call in for reinforcements is to step out into the clear where his satellite phone can establish a connection. Here's Luttrell's description amid the chaos:
"And I turned to Mikey (Lieutenant Murphy), who was obviously badly hurt now. 'Can you move, buddy?' I asked him.
"And he groped in his pocket for his mobile phone, the one we had dared not use because it would betray our position. 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, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ.
"I could hear him talking. 'My men are taking heavy fire . . . we're getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here . . . we need help.'
"And then Mikey took a bullet straight in the back. I saw the blood spurt from his chest. He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle. But then he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear.
"I heard him speak again. 'Roger that, sir. Thank you.' Then he stood up and staggered out to our bad position, the one guarding to our left, and Mikey just started fighting again, firing at the enemy. . . .
"Knowing the risk, understanding the danger, in the full knowledge the phone call would cost him his life, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, son of Maureen, fiance' of the beautiful Heather, walked out into the firestorm. . . .
"I doubt there was every anyone better than Mikey, cool under fire, always thinking, fearless about issuing the one-option command even if it was nearly impossible. And then the final, utterly heroic act. Not a gesture. An act of supreme valor. Lieutenant Mikey was a wonderful person and a very, very great SEAL officer. If they build a memorial to him as high as the Empire State building, it won't ever be high enough for me. . . .
"The screaming had stopped. For everyone except me. I still hear Mikey, every night. I still hear that scream above all other things, even above the death of Danny Dietz. For several weeks I thought I might be losing my mind, because I could never push it aside. There were one or two other frightening occasions when I heard it in broad daylight and found myself pressed against a wall, my hands covering my ears."
Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, Navy SEAL, was accorded posthumously this country's highest military recognition, the Medal of Honor, by President Bush, and you can watch the video here. For more information about his Medal of Honor citation and photos of Lieutenant Murphy, click here.
Navy SEAL and Lone Survivor author Marcus Luttrell received the Navy Cross for combat heroism and you can view that video here.
May God bless Luttrell and his SEAL brothers, and all the men and women of the United States military, to whom we owe a debt that can never be repaid.