Antonio Spain knelt in the wet grass at the grave of slain Navy SEAL Michael Murphy, raised a camera to his eyes and snapped a photo of the tombstone Tuesday at Calverton National Cemetery.
Spain, a Navy cook who serves on the new destroyer USS Michael Murphy, had heard stories of the heroism with which its namesake fought in Afghanistan's lawless mountains.
So when Spain and about 100 of his shipmates heard that Murphy's parents had invited crew members to visit their son's grave, they gave up a day of sightseeing in Manhattan to learn more about the Patchogue SEAL, whose sacrifice earned him the nation's highest honor.
Riding in two motor coaches, the crew members visited a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital where Murphy's mother, Maureen Murphy, works, placed 19 Hawaiian leis on Murphy's grave, attended a ceremony at the cemetery, where a road was renamed in Murphy's honor, and later attended a picnic at Michael P. Murphy Beach on Lake Ronkonkoma.
"I never knew him, but I heard different stories about him that touched me," said Spain, 38, a petty officer first class who helps supervise 13 cooks, among other duties. "I knew I would have some junior guys, and that knowing about him would help me teach them."
Murphy, 29, was leading a four-member team of SEALs in pursuit of a high-level Taliban operative when his team was surrounded near the Pakistani border on June 28, 2005. Murphy sacrificed himself in an attempt to get help, an action that posthumously earned him the nation's highest military award — the Medal of Honor — in 2007.
Last year, the Navy named a 510-foot destroyer after Murphy. The ship, which bears the name "Michael Murphy" across its broad stern, is in town for its commissioning into the Navy Saturday at a Hudson River berth adjacent to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
Ships' names are much more than cosmetic adornments on broad slabs of steel, Navy officials say.
Rather, ship commanders urge their crew to take inspiration from the spirit of their ship's namesake, said Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, deputy commander of the Navy's Special Warfare Command.
"Part of the shipboard indoctrination will be to have them know who Michael Murphy was," said San Diego-based Bonelli, who joined the crew members Tuesday at Murphy's grave. "His spirit is going to live in all these kids. What he did. What he meant to the Navy."
Distributed by MCT Information Services