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Medal of Honor awarded to 'antithesis of a warrior'

  • Story Highlights
  • Lt. Michael Murphy honored for trying to save his four-man SEAL team
  • Murphy, two others in his team were killed in fight with more than 40 insurgents
  • Murphy exposed himself to enemy fire in order to call in help for team
  • Incident was deadliest for SEALs since World War II
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- His mother describes Lt. Michael Murphy as "someone who always stuck up for the underdog." His father says he was "honest, kind, caring -- probably the antithesis of what you would call a warrior."

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Dan and Maureen Murphy accept their son's Medal of Honor from President Bush.

Two years after he was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan, Dan and Maureen Murphy and their son John on Monday received Lt. Murphy's Medal of Honor for heroism on the battlefield from President Bush.

"With this medal, we acknowledge a debt that will not diminish with time and can never be repaid," Bush said.

Murphy's honor is the first to be awarded from the war in Afghanistan. Two Medals of Honor have been awarded to a soldier and a Marine serving in Iraq.

In June 2005, Murphy, 29, led his four-man Navy SEAL team into the 10,000-foot peaks of Afghanistan's Hindu Kush to search for a terrorist thought to be in the region. But they were soon spotted and started taking fire from more than 40 insurgents.

According to a Navy report on the incident, the insurgents held the advantage of terrain and launched a well organized, three-sided attack on the team, forcing them deeper into a ravine.

All four men were soon wounded, said the SEAL team's lone survivor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell. Video Watch Luttrell tell the story of what happened that day »

Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government.

It is bestowed on a member of the U.S. armed forces who distinguishes himself "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."

Source: Federal Code of Regulations, U.S. Department of Defense

"We were hurtin' bad," Luttrell said. "We were out of ammo, and you know everybody, it was bad, it was real bad."

Murphy exposed himself to enemy fire while trying to keep his team together, Luttrell said.

"He was in a horrible position. He left himself open so he could move back and forth to each individual guy."

The mountainous terrain blocked communications. The team's communications operator was wounded as he tried to find an area to transmit from. According to the Navy report, Murphy moved into the open and "calmly provided his unit's location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team."

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  • Michael Murphy Medal of Honor page

The report said that at one point Murphy was hit in the back and dropped the handset but retrieved it and completed his call, even saying "thank you" at the end of his transmission.

Luttrell witnessed Murphy's heroism.

"I looked back up at Mikey and he took two rounds to the back and sat back up, hung up the phone. ... That was the last time I saw him."

The day turned out to be the U.S.'s deadliest in Afghanistan and the worst loss of life for the SEALs since World War II. Beyond the three SEALs on the ground, a Chinook helicopter carrying reinforcements was shot down while trying to reach the team, killing eight more SEALs and eight members of an Army special operations unit.

Luttrell was blasted over a ridge by a rocket-propelled grenade and knocked unconscious, according to the report. Despite suffering a bullet wound to one leg, shrapnel wounds in both legs and three cracked vertebrae, he managed to crawl away from the fight.

He was rescued by local villagers who refused demands by the Taliban to turn him over and later got word to a Marine outpost.

Murphy's parents in Patchogue, New York, were soon notified by the Navy of their son's death.

They said what they heard of the firefight exemplified their son.

"He was very protective of other people and he always stuck up for the underdog," Maureen Murphy said.

"Here is a man who had been shot in the stomach, and been fighting with this wound, gets shot in the back ... and then still has the presence of mind to say 'thank you,' which was Michael," Dan Murphy said. "Michael was the politest person you would ever want to meet."

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The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government.

It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself "...conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Barbara Starr and John Helton contributed to this report.

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