HONOLULU — More than 30 SEALs, several hundred family members and other sailors, hula dancers and a brass band greeted the Navy's newest destroyer, the USS Michael Murphy, as it arrived at its new home port at Pearl Harbor Wednesday morning.
The ship memorializes the heroism of Lt. Michael Murphy, 29, who was with SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 out of Hawaii, and who gave his life for fellow SEALs on a mission in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Murphy posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Five Pearl Harbor SEALs were killed on the mission and when a Chinook rescue helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Altogether, 19 Americans died. A sixth Hawaii-based SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, survived.
Ship horns blared a welcome across Pearl Harbor as the 9,200-ton, 509-foot warship glided up to pier M-1 with a giant red, white and blue lei adorning its bow.
There were mixed emotions as the $1.1 billion destroyer arrived from the East Coast. The Murphy made port stops in Newport, R.I.; New York City; Norfolk, Va.; Barbados; Mexico; and San Diego.
Cheers came from families as the reunion with sailors a day before Thanksgiving inched closer.
"Da-a-a-a-d!" shouted Tyler Veach, 5, as he spotted his father, Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Veach, among the 279 crew members.
More than 30 SEALs from Murphy's unit, SDVT-1, stood at attention on the pier in remembrance and respect.
Cmdr. Jon MacDonald, who now commands SDVT-1 and was with the Hawaii unit when Murphy and the others were killed, said it was "pretty emotional" seeing the warship.
Two other SEALs and a support technician who were with Murphy's platoon are still in SDVT-1, MacDonald said.
"I have a hard time putting in words what the feeling was, but when I see Mike's name, I know Mike's a really humble guy, and he would probably look at all this stuff and think, ‘C'mon, what's all this for?'" MacDonald said. "But Mike is representative of the type of guy that we have in the (SEAL) community. He's certainly a hero, as were all the guys that were lost that day."
Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, said that "every time the sailors on this ship cross the brow and salute, they are recognizing the tremendous heroism of Lt. Michael Murphy and what he has accomplished."
Murphy, from Patchogue, N.Y., was one of 19 U.S. military personnel killed during Operation Red Wings — three in a firefight with the enemy and 16 on a helicopter shot down as it flew in to aid Murphy's team.
It began when a fierce gunbattle erupted between Murphy's four-man SEAL team and dozens of enemy fighters high in the remote mountains of Kunar province.
Intent on making contact with headquarters, Murphy, wounded and disregarding his own safety, moved into the open to get a better position to transmit a call for help for his men, the Navy said.
At one point he was shot in the back, causing him to drop the transmitter, but Murphy retrieved it and completed the call.
The other Pearl Harbor SEALs killed were Matthew Axelson, 29; Eric Patton, 22; Daniel Healy, 36; and James Suh, 28.
MacDonald remembered Murphy was new to the SDVT-1 team around 2003 and was on his first tour out of SEAL training.
"He was a really well-respected guy and picked up stuff really well," MacDonald said. "He was in his first platoon and obviously the leadership role that he was given in Afghanistan is telling of the type of guy he was."
Murphy was a physical fitness zealot.
"If we were going for a run, he was going for the run in body armor," MacDonald said. The special operations team, which has about 100 SEALs in Hawaii, has a workout called the "Murph" in the fallen SEAL's honor.
There's an Operation Red Wings memorial at the SEAL team command.
"All throughout the command, there are photographs, there's Mike and the rest of the guys, so you can't walk 10 feet in our command without seeing something that reminds you of their sacrifice," MacDonald said.
On display on the Murphy are his SEAL Trident pin, a dress uniform and other mementos.
"A lot of the crew has the whole Michael Murphy spirit," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Caleb Jorgensen, an electronics technician. "A lot of people are really proud to be part of this command just because of the namesake."
Tina Veach was on the pier with her two boys waiting to be reunited with her husband.
"It's been a very long road getting here. We've been attached to this ship from about ever since it was talked about being built, so we've been waiting a long time to be in Hawaii together," she said.
"I get him home for Thanksgiving. That's what I'm thankful for this year is family, definitely," Veach added.