BATH, Maine (AP) — The mother of a Navy SEAL killed in a firefight in Afghanistan christened a warship bearing her son’s name on Saturday as the leader of the nation’s special forces said those who died that day would be comforted to know that the al-Qaida leader who caused the war in Afghanistan was killed by the U.S. military.
Maureen Murphy, mother of Lt. Michael Murphy, said “Happy birthday, baby” during remarks from the podium minutes before smashing a bottle of Champagne against the bow of the Navy destroyer on what would’ve been her son’s 35th birthday.
The Navy lieutenant and Medal of Honor recipient led a four-member SEAL team against overwhelming odds in a gun battle in eastern Afghanistan.
Killed along with Murphy on June 28, 2005, were two members of his team, as well as 16 rescuers — eight Navy SEALs and eight members of the Army’s elite Night Stalkers — after their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“If these brave men are watching today, they must be extremely proud of — and somewhat comforted by — the reports that the man who started the war in which they died was himself killed when their brothers — Navy SEALs and Army Night Stalkers — assaulted his compound,” said Adm. Eric Olson, leader of the Special Operations Command and a former SEAL instructor.
Security was beefed up for Saturday’s event, which followed less than a week after Osama bin Laden was shot to death in Pakistan.
Outside, about two dozen peace demonstrators held signs and banners, and made speeches, but there were no arrests, Bath police said.
Joining the 3,000 spectators at General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works were more than a dozen SEALs from Murphy’s Hawaii-based unit, as well as family members of four of the fallen SEALs and a contingent of 22 firefighters from New York City.
Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., was leading a reconnaissance team looking for the commander of a group of insurgents known as the Mountain Tigers when he died.
The mission was compromised when goat herders encountered the SEALs and alerted the Taliban; within an hour the small team was facing 100 heavily armed Taliban.
Already shot and disregarding his own safety, Murphy left his protected position and went to a clearing — where he was exposed to a hail of Taliban gunfire — to get a clear signal to contact Bagram Airfield to relay the dire situation.
He dropped the satellite phone after being shot a second time but finished the call and even signed off, “Roger that, sir. Thank you.”
Speakers including Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, Maine’s governor and members of Maine’s congressional delegation praised the courage, determination and valor that Murphy exhibited in leading his team under the most difficult of circumstances on steep rocky terrain 6,000 miles from home.
“Michael was the leader of a small team, operating against our most vicious enemies, in the most forbidding terrain on earth, the high mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the legendary Hindu Kush. And a place from which a true warrior feels at home, and a place from which a heroic warrior’s released soul finds a shorter flight to the heavens,” Olson said.
Before the ceremony ended, Murphy’s mother asked for a moment of silence before reading the names of all 19 service members who died in the firefight and rescue attempt before christening the ship.
After it is completed and delivered to the Navy, the $1.1 billion warship will be homeported in Hawaii, where Murphy was a part SEAL Delivery Team 1. The Murphy is the 62nd of the Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers.