Alan Levy on Why the 4th Matters

Florida.  July 4th, 2018

I visited my favorite beach hot dog joint last Friday evening.

Okay, don’t ask why a reasonably intelligent guy might think it’s a good idea to order a foot-long jumbo hotdog at 9:30 at night, an act that’s the coronary equivalent of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, but there I was … again.

As usual, I ordered the bun slightly toasted, paid in advance for the arterial nightmare, and was sipping on a beer while awaiting the sandwich that resembles a red wooden hammer handle on a bun.  The cook even puts a little yellow mustardy smiley face on each end of the masterpiece, so that each can leer at you for a moment as you contemplate which one to begin to devour.

There was a group of ten vacationers seated at two combined tables directly in front of me.  They were dressed in t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops, and six of them were children of various sizes.  They were laughing and eating, and as it happened, the older of the two men in their group was seated facing away from me.  He had a crisp military haircut and was wearing a faded blue t-shirt.  The entire back was filled with chipped white lettering that said … “In memory of Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, U.S. Navy SEAL, killed in service to his country, June 28, 2005.  Afghanistan.”

I’ve lived near a naval base here for about three years, and I must confess that I’m continually astounded by the people who populate that base.  And the same is true of those who serve and live at two nearby Air Force bases, as well.  To a man (and woman) they are all cut from the same cloth.  First, they are all extremely polite and respectful.  They are soft-spoken and articulate.  And their dedication to the tasks before them and the apparent love they share for this country speaks volumes about their character.  Just talking to them, for lack of a better term, I feel safer for the experience.  Clearly, these are some of our nation’s very finest.

I would be remiss to not explain that I’ve mentioned navy and air force personnel because I encounter them most often in this part of Florida, so don’t get the idea I favor those branches of service over the Marine Corps or the U. S. Army.  I do not.  To emphasize that point, I’ll mention that a couple of months ago, I was seated at the bar of my favorite beach wings place (yes, I once ate a salad), and there were four young men seated next to me.  They were in their early twenties, all were in obviously good shape, three were in casual clothes, and one was wearing the dress uniform of a U.S. Marine.  As I was leaving, I gave the bartender an extra twenty bucks to pay for the Marine’s dinner, stopped, shook his hand, and thanked him for his service.  I like myself better for that simple act of kindness, but it pales in comparison to the actions of someone I know in Chicago.  For more than twenty years, perhaps thirty, whenever he goes out to lunch and sees uniformed armed forces personnel in the restaurant, he always buys each of them a dessert to accompany their meal.  Doesn’t say anything, doesn’t shake a hand as did I; instead, he simply instructs the server, pays, and leaves.  A great ongoing gesture of gratitude.

Bravery, loyalty, dedication, and patriotism should be lauded and respected.  Without those traits imbued in a prior American generation, we’d all be speaking German today, and it’s mindboggling to me that the current generation of French nationals doesn’t care much at all for Americans.

Perhaps these locations should be on the blood-red t-shirts we all wear, whenever visiting France.

WW I Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, 14,246 Dead. 

WW II Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-Avold east of Metz.  10,489 Dead.

Not once, but twice, our finest died on French soil during the prior century in an attempt to liberate them, and they have the audacity to treat us with disdain.

But enough bashing of the French.  They did give us vital assistance in 1775, after all, and when you consider that Japan and Germany are now our allies, maybe the French aren’t all that bad.

Back to the faded blue t-shirt, Lt. Michael Murphy, and my research in Wikipedia about him.  Much of the following information is paraphrased or quoted directly from that source.

He was born in Suffolk County, New York, raised there, and attended Penn State University where he graduated with honors and dual degrees in political science and psychology.  He accepted a commission in the U.S. Navy upon his graduation from Penn State and became a Navy SEAL in July of 2002.  In early 2005, Lt. Murphy was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE as officer in charge of Alpha Platoon and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Operation “Red Wings” was a counter-insurgent mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan, involving four members of the United States Navy SEALs.  Lt. Murphy and two other SEALs, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson, were killed in the fighting, in addition to sixteen U.S. special operations soldiers, who were killed when their helicopter was shot down while attempting to extract the SEAL Team.  That was the largest loss of life for U.S. Special Forces since the invasion began and the largest loss for the SEALs since the Vietnam War.  Marcus Luttrell was the only surviving SEAL from the squad; he was protected by local villagers, who sent an emissary to the closest military base, allowing a rescue team to locate him.

Murphy was the commander of the four-man reconnaissance team.  They were on a mission to kill or capture a top Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah (code name Ben Sharmak), who commanded a group of insurgents known as the “Mountain Tigers” west of Asadabad.  The SEAL team was dropped off by helicopter in a remote, mountainous area east of Asadabad in Kunar Province near the Pakistan border. After an initially successful infiltration, local goat herders stumbled upon the SEALs’ hiding place.  Unable to verify any hostile intent from the herders, the team decided not to detain them.   Hostile locals, possibly the goat herders the SEALs allowed to pass, alerted nearby Taliban forces who surrounded and attacked the small group.  After Lt. Murphy called for help, an MH-47 Chinook helicopter loaded with reinforcements was dispatched to rescue the team, but was shot down with an RPG, killing all 16 personnel aboard … eight SEALs and eight other service members from the 160th SOAR.

Murphy, Dietz, and Axelson were killed in the action.  Luttrell was the lone U.S. survivor and was eventually rescued, after several days of wandering in the mountains and being protected by the people of an Afghan village.  All three of Lt. Murphy’s men were awarded the Navy’s second-highest honor, the Navy Cross, for their part in the battle, making theirs the most decorated Navy SEAL team in history.  Lt. Murphy was killed on June 28th, 2005 after he left his cover position and went to a clearing away from the mountains, exposing himself to a hail of gunfire in order to get a clear signal to contact headquarters for relaying the dire situation and requesting immediate support for his team.  He dropped the satellite phone after being shot multiple times but picked the phone back up and finished the call.  While being shot, he signed off saying, “Thank You”, and then continued fighting from his exposed position until he died from his wounds.

On July 4th, 2005, Murphy’s remains were found by a group of American soldiers during a combat search and rescue operation and returned to the United States. Nine days later, on July 13th, Lt. Murphy was buried with full military honors at Calverton National Cemetery.

On October 11th, 2007 The White House announced that Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy would be presented the Medal of Honor, and it was awarded posthumously during a ceremony at the White House on October 22nd, 2007 to Lt. Murphy’s parents.  Ironically, the name “Murphy” means “sea warrior” in Irish Gaelic.

The tragic demise of Lt. Michael Murphy, his two SEAL compatriots on the ground and sixteen other brave men on their rescue mission were the basis of the Hollywood movie, “Lone Survivor”, a title that left little guesswork to its plot.

But Hollywood and mediocre cinema aside, we cannot and should not ignore the sacrifices of our brave men and women.  Fifty-six Navy SEALS have given their lives during combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to date, and while that is a tragic statistic, this is the number that is most sobering.  Arlington National Cemetery has beautifully manicured grounds, and its gracefully rolling hills cover more than six hundred and twenty acres.  Within that sacred facility there are more than 400,000 headstones, memorials to those who gave their lives so that this great nation may remain a free society.

The fireworks on the 4th were spectacular.  And you already know how much I adore hot dogs.  But I also have a deep respect for our military personnel, whether they are white or black, red, yellow or any shade thereof, whether they are of a particular religion, or they practice none at all.  To help your mindset, I’d like to mention a gentleman named Master-At-Arms, Second-Class Michael Anthony Monsoor, recipient of the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He was a member of SEAL Team 3 and was killed in Iraq on September 29th, 2006 when he threw himself selflessly on a grenade in order to protect his fellow SEALs.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 8th, 2008 by President George W. Bush.  Master-At-Arms Monsoor’s father is Mr. George Paul Monsoor.  He was formerly a U.S. Marine, and he is a Muslim.

We should all follow the demonstration of love and admiration exhibited by the United States Navy when dealing with our heroes.

The USS Michael Monsoor is a Zumwalt class guided missile destroyer.

And the USS Michael Murphy is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

I hope you enjoyed your hot dogs and beer.  And the next time you’re in a restaurant and see men or women in uniform, buy them a piece of cake or a slice of pie, walk over, shake their hands, and thank them for their service.  You will feel good for the experience, and you’ll feel something else, as well …


Alan Levy is the author of The Tenth Plague, which will be published by Chickadee Prince Books in 2019.

Photograph and design by Steven S. Drachman.

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