You may have had the opportunity to see our newest social media series we are calling “You Oughta Know.” As part of this series, Borough President Oddo is highlighting American service members who sacrificed his or her life in service to our country. The goal is to focus on things that are important in an era when we spend so much of our time engrossed in things that don’t matter, like celebrity gossip. It’s an honor to play a small role in this series.
While working on it, though, it made me once again recall my own inadequacies. For the past two years or so, I have continually had a nagging regret, once that I can consider one of the larger regrets of my life. That is, the fact that I never served in our country’s military.
The fact is that men and women of my generation fought, bled and died in places like Fallujah, Baghdad, and Kandahar. Kids my own age were facing down their fears of IED’s, while I was living comfortably and forcing myself to not think about it.
I am going to be forty years old this year. I am too old to enlist - and I regret that I never did. As a younger man, I did make inquiries. In the days after 9/11, while in law school, I did have preliminary conversations with an Army JAG Corps recruiter on campus. That went nowhere, mainly because I didn’t pursue it. Soon after, I had conversations with a local recruiter, in fact, several. But I had a young child and the thought of being away from my family for extended periods of time stopped me from pursuing it. That and the fact that my physical condition was nowhere near sufficient for me to seriously pursue it.
So I just started living my life. I had a job I was advancing in, and on the news I began to see the body count coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Frankly, it was easier to sit on the sidelines.
I think of people like Lt. Michael Murphy often. A Long Island native and Navy Seal, he was killed in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings on June 28, 2005. Lieutenant Murphy was a year older than me and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Here is the official citation signed by President Bush:
FOR CONSPICUOUS GALLANTRY AND INTREPIDITY AT THE RISK OF HIS LIFE ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY AS THE LEADER OF A SPECIAL RECONNAISSANCE ELEMENT WITH NAVAL SPECIAL WARFARE TASK UNIT AFGHANISTAN ON 27 AND 28 JUNE 2005. WHILE LEADING A MISSION TO LOCATE A HIGH-LEVEL ANTI-COALITION MILITIA LEADER, LIEUTENANT MURPHY DEMONSTRATED EXTRAORDINARY HEROISM IN THE FACE OF GRAVE DANGER IN THE VICINITY OF ASADABAD, KONAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN. ON 28 JUNE 2005, OPERATING IN AN EXTREMELY RUGGED ENEMY-CONTROLLED AREA, LIEUTENANT MURPHY’S TEAM WAS DISCOVERED BY ANTI-COALITION MILITIA SYMPATHIZERS, WHO REVEALED THEIR POSITION TO TALIBAN FIGHTERS. AS A RESULT, BETWEEN 30 AND 40 ENEMY FIGHTERS BESIEGED HIS FOUR-MEMBER TEAM. DEMONSTRATING EXCEPTIONAL RESOLVE, LIEUTENANT MURPHY VALIANTLY LED HIS MEN IN ENGAGING THE LARGE ENEMY FORCE. THE ENSUING FIERCE FIREFIGHT RESULTED IN NUMEROUS ENEMY CASUALTIES, AS WELL AS THE WOUNDING OF ALL FOUR MEMBERS OF THE TEAM. 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, COURAGEOUS ACTIONS, AND EXTRAORDINARY DEVOTION TO DUTY, LIEUTENANT MURPHY REFLECTED GREAT CREDIT UPON HIMSELF AND UPHELD THE HIGHEST TRADITIONS OF THE UNITED STATES NAVAL SERVICE.
SIGNED GEORGE W. BUSH
What was I doing on June 28, 2005? I’m not sure. Probably preparing for summer and living my life in reasonable comfort.
When I read more about Lt. Murphy I’m struck by how similar our lives were. He grew up in Long Island and played sports as a kid. I grew up on Staten Island, playing sports throughout my youth.
He was a political science major and so was I.
One of his favorite pastimes was reading, particularly classics, and so was mine.
He was accepted to several law schools, and so was I.
The difference is he decided to forge a different path, and with that decision he set into motion experiences and actions that made him an American hero.
As I sit here writing this out, I think about what it was like being so far away from home, being mortally wounded, and putting himself in an area without cover to communicate for help, knowing he would be killed.
My chance to serve our country in the military has passed me by. At this point, my own version of “heroism” is much more mundane. I try my best to take care of my family and ensure my kids grow up respecting people like Lt. Murphy. I try to do my job to the best of my abilities and try to improve my community.
Lt. Murphy, besides being immortalized as a Medal of Honor winner and having his actions documented in the 2013 movie Lone Survivor, has been immortalized in other ways. Each year during Memorial Day weekend, thousands of gyms around the nation celebrate Lt. Murphy’s life by performing his favorite workout. I have done the workout, which he called “Body Armor,” but is now universally known as “Murph” in his honor, three times. Each time, I have gotten emotional when I think of Lt. Murphy doing this same thing, full of life and vigor and a desire to serve our country. It is a small way to remember Lt. Murphy and his compatriots who died for something greater than themselves. I will be doing it again this year during Memorial Day weekend.
I’ll end where I started. I regret that I did not serve in our military. No, I don’t have a death wish, and I am happy I did not die in the barren mountains of Afghanistan at age 29. But still, I wish I considered more strongly as a younger man the great privilege it would have been to serve our country in some meaningful way.
I encourage you to read our You Oughta Know series and learn more about other soldiers who heard the call…and heeded it.