By Mike Gordon, The Honolulu Advertiser July 12, 2005
Forwarded by YNCS Don Harribine, USN (Ret)
It's no secret the Navy's most elite covert warriors, the SEALs, are a tough breed of sailor whose exploits are the stuff of legend. But when they gathered yesterday at Punchbowl to honor five Pearl Harbor teammates killed in battle in Afghanistan, their gruff exterior gave way to tears. All five SEALs died in connection with an ill-fated reconnaissance mission and failed rescue June 28 in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.
Six other SEALs and eight Army commandos also died in connection to the missions that day. Only one SEAL was found alive, but his name has not been released. The loss of life eulogized yesterday at the National Memorial Cemetery
of the Pacific was the most the SEALs have experienced in a single day since they fought as commandos in World War II.
The pain it created was obvious on just about every face in the audience as each of the fallen SEALs was remembered by a friend.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the ceremony. Among the mourners was Warrant Officer Dave Bauer, a SEAL who spoke with powerful emotion about Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Daniel Healy.
Bauer, a bear of a man, seemed to crumple beneath the weight of his words. “As a father I can only hope my own sons can grow to become a man like Dan,” Bauer said, pausing to gather breath and whatever emotional strength he could muster. “He is a guy … you want to grow up to be like.” Bauer said he could not think of anyone else he would rather have at his side in battle than his friend Healy.
“All SEALs will be held to a higher standard for what Dan did,” Bauer said. “This man will live forever for all men who call themselves warriors.” The 36-year-old Healy was one of three Pearl Harbor SEALs who willingly jumped on the rescue flight.
Also on that flight were Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Shane Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nev., and Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Two of those they went to rescue were Pearl Harbor SEALs - Lt. Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., and Sonar Technician 2nd Class (Surface) Matthew Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, Calif., whose body was recovered Sunday. Axelson had been the last missing SEAL and the focus of an intense search by fellow SEALs, Marines and soldiers. He was added to the ceremony even though the Pentagon had not officially released his name.
Axelson's friend, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matt Leathers, stood before the audience yesterday and told them that all his buddies thought - and hoped - Axelson had somehow managed to escape and was making life difficult for the Taliban.
“We all expected a call from him saying 'Send me more ammo, I'm having a good time out here,' ” Leathers said. He said Axelson was one of the toughest men he had ever met. “We loved him and we still do and we always will,” Leathers said.
If there was a theme yesterday in the remarks made at Punchbowl it was loyalty. From sailors to admirals, the fierce devotion to each other outweighed all concern for personal safety.
When Murphy was remembered by Lt. Sean Chittick, a SEAL from Pearl Harbor, Chittick read comments sent to him from friends still fighting in Afghanistan. They said Murphy was a selfless, but humble leader who “put his men above everything.”
“Murph was afraid of nothing and excellent at everything he did,” Chittick said.
Chief Petty Officer Brian Mulholland spoke of Suh, a teammate with high standards and genuine kindness. He, too, died for his men. “On the day of his calling, he volunteered to go and retrieve his men,” Mulholland said. “No doubt he was the first in line.
“Last to be eulogized was Patton. His friend, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Wulfsburg, called him “the smirking bad ass who inspired confidence in those around him.” His friend - whom he dubbed “the king of the pointless tattoos” because somewhere along the way he had “Welcome to Las Vegas” and a pair of stars inked into his skin - cared deeply about his mission as a SEAL. “He cared about pulling his own weight,” Wulfsburg said. “He cared about his platoon.”
In announcing posthumous commendations for the SEALs, which included Silver Stars for those killed on the ground and Bronze Stars for those aboard the helicopter, the Navy said the rescue team demonstrated “exceptional resolve” as it attempted a daring, daylight rescue nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.
Their plan was to swoop in aboard their MH-47 Chinook helicopter and make a rapid “fast-rope” exit from the helicopter to help their teammates, the Navy said. But enemy forces were superior in number and held a better vantage point.
The Navy believes a rocket-propelled grenade took down the helicopter. Again, the theme was loyalty. “Even if no one came back alive, the mission would have been worth it because SEALs leave no one behind,” said Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire, head of the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego.
“The men in the cockpit and the men in the back fully understood the great danger they were going into and they lost their lives trying to rescue their teammates,” Maguire said.
Their boss at Pearl Harbor, Cmdr. Todd DeGhetto, spoke of the SEALs as “my boys” and his voice cracked at times. He called them courageous warriors. “The Bible tells us there is no greater love than to give your life to another,” DeGhetto said. “But to enter the line of duty and a hailstorm of bullets knowing you may not come out alive, that's something else entirely.”
The ceremony peaked, as many of these do, with a missing-man flyover. But this time, the low rumble coming from the south belonged to four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 25th Aviation Regiment at Wheeler Army Airfield. When they were deployed to Afghanistan, helicopters from the aviation regiment worked closely with the SEALs on many missions.
In tribute yesterday, they skimmed low over the crater before one veered away, circled back and hovered for a few moments above the mourners. Then it slowly tilted upward and rumbled into the distance.