For hundreds in West Sayville, Memorial Day meant fundraising at the Lt. Michael P. Murphy SEAL Museum in memory of the son of Patchogue, killed in Afghanistan nearly 18 years ago.
Some endured the "Murph Challenge" — a demanding mix of situps, pullups and air squats sandwiched between two 1-mile runs, designed by its namesake — while others cheered them on.
They raised money for scholarships, the museum and organizations that help veterans with traumatic brain injuries. They also watched the unveiling of a granite monument outside the museum, an enduring symbol of Murphy and the other members of his unit killed that day in late June 2005.
“It’s important, being Memorial Day, that all of us remember all of those who fell in defense of this nation,” said Murphy’s father, Daniel. “I like to say when you think about them, they gave their tomorrows for us to have today.”
Murphy said since his son’s story resonates with so many people, it should be used to bring attention to everyone who sacrificed their lives.
“I know Michael is smiling down from heaven on us for that reason,” he said.
The 29-year-old SEAL was on a mission behind enemy lines on June 28, 2005, dubbed Operation Red Wings, to find a Taliban-aligned terrorist leader in the Hindu Kush mountains near the Pakistan border. Murphy and two other SEALs were killed on the ground during Operation Red Wings. Eight more SEALs and eight Army “Night Stalker” special forces personnel who tried to rescue them also were killed when their helicopter was shot down.
The only member of the team to survive was Marcus Luttrell, whose story was told in the 2013 film “Lone Survivor.”
The monument to the service members is crafted in jet black granite. The 7-foot high centerpiece includes an etching of Murphy and a transcription of his Medal of Honor citation. It is flanked by slabs etched with the names of the SEALs and Army Night Stalkers killed in the mission, as well as Luttrell. On each side is the creed for the SEALs and the Night Stalkers.
Museum executive director and retired Navy SEAL Chris Wyllie said Murphy's improvised workouts, honed in places far from weightrooms or fitness spas, were another way to keep "his legacy alive.”
“When you are deployed, you don’t have a gym,” Wyllie said. “You have to come up with some creative ways to make it a difficult workout. [Murphy] figured it out himself."
The resulting Murph's Challenge entered its 10th year this Memorial Day weekend. It included a one-mile run, followed by 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats and another one-mile run. Many of the participants follow Murphy’s lead and wore a 20-pound weighted vest during the challenge.
“We thought for the 10th anniversary, it would be even more special to have it here — at what we call ‘Mike’s House,' ”Wyllie said. “You have friends and family with you and it gives people a more personal, emotional connection to what you are doing.”
Joe and Lori Papagni of East Moriches both took part in the challenge.
“It’s a grueling workout,” said Joe Papagni, 49, who has participated in the challenge for about eight years and served as a U.S. Navy corpsman.
“But it’s always a great time … it’s also a very emotional day to be able to be here with Mr. Murphy and his family.”
Jen Simons-Weckerle, 43, of East Moriches, did the challenge wearing the weighted vest for the first time.
“It was a little rough but it was a nice challenge,” said Simons-Weckerle, a chief master sergeant in the Air Force. “It’s about sacrificing a little for those who sacrificed everything.”
The Ronkonkoma Rotary Club had previously raised funds for the monument, which cost about $42,000.
Daniel Murphy said it’s important that all memorials and honors for his son include others who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
"There is nothing anywhere where it is just about Michael ... (he) would be bringing brimstone and lightning on us,” Murphy said with a laugh. “Because he believed in his team.”