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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

5 PEARL HARBOR SEALS
MEMORIALIZED




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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At yesterday's memorial service at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Black Hawk helicopters executed a flyover in honor of five slain Navy SEALs. Inset: Navy SEALs Matthew Axelson, left, Daniel Healy, James Suh, an unidentified teammate, Eric Shane Patton and Michael Murphy are shown in an undated photo. All but the unidentified SEAL were killed in Afghanistan.




‘They were courageous.
They were warriors.
They were heroes.’

Hawaii SEALs are among
the fallen honored at Punchbowl

It is a Navy tradition to give a 7-inch Kabar knife inscribed with the name of a fallen SEAL to each sailor who survives one of the military's most grueling year-long special forces trainings.

At the September SEAL graduation ceremony in Coronado, Calif., 11 of the knives will carry the names and ranks of the 11 SEALs -- five from Pearl Harbor -- who died in Afghanistan recently.

Killed in a fierce firefight with anti-coalition forces in the mountains of Afghanistan on June 28 were two members of Pearl Harbor's SEAL Delivery Team One: Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue, N.Y., and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, 29, from Cupertino, Calif.

Three other Pearl Harbor SEALs -- Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel Healy of Exeter, N.H.; Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Shane Patton of Boulder City, Nev. -- were among the 16 troops killed when their rescue MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down.

One Pearl Harbor SEAL survived the June 28 firefight in the Kunar province.

Yesterday, the Navy's close-knit Navy SEAL community paid tribute to the 11 SEALs at a National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific service. Of the 2,000 SEALs in the Navy, 50 are assigned to Pearl Harbor.

Nearly two dozen family members of Suh, Healy and Patton attended the service.

They were each presented with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Murphy and Axelson's families will receive the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals at mainland services later, the Navy said.




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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Solomon Suh was among the mourners at yesterday's Punchbowl memorial service for his son, James Suh, and four other Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs killed last month on a mission in Afghanistan.




On one side of Punchbowl's memorial stone were 11 soldiers' crosses -- which have come to symbolize those killed in this war, with the inverted M-4 carbine topped off with a Kevlar helmet and the soldier's boots at the base. Five of the soldiers' crosses were draped with an orchid lei held together with a small yellow ribbon to honor the Pearl Harbor SEALs.

Behind the row of soldiers' crosses were five shadow boxes containing a folded American flag in the left corner, the bright gold Navy SEAL trident pin, each sailor's medals and a plaque.

Each plaque was signed with the motto Na Koa Ke Kai, "warrior of the sea."

Also on display was the personal equipment of the fallen SEALs: two swim fins, a flotation device and a web belt with the Kabar knife topped by a swim mask.

On the other side of the memorial stone were eight more soldiers' crosses with the pictures of the Army Special Forces soldiers killed in the helicopter crash.

Rear Adm. Maguire, commander of the Naval Special Warfare command, said, "Although these men died at 8,000 feet, 300 nautical miles from the sea, they were first and foremost Navy commandos, warriors from the sea. They are Navy men."

Cmdr. Todd DeChetto, commander of the Pearl Harbor SEALs, said nothing stopped Healy, Patton and Suh from volunteering "to save their brothers. Nothing was going to stop them."

"They were courageous. They were warriors. They were heroes."

As taps echoed through Punchbowl crater, four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead in formation. One Black Hawk then pulled out of the "missing man" formation and hovered over the crowd.

After the ceremony, Maguire said four SEALs had been conducting a surveillance mission to take a look at Taliban and al-Qaida movements in the Himalayas. "They wound up in an engagement with a very superior numerical force that not only had a larger number, (it) also had the advantage of the topography as well. ... They called back to camp for help."

"Three of them on the ground died of their wounds from that battle."

Although it took several days to recover Axelson's body, Maguire said, he was never captured, as falsely reported by anti-coalition militia. "This man died of wounds sustained in combat on the 28 (of June). There's no truth to the misinformation from anti-coalition forces."


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‘Part of our family
-- our ohana -- here
in Hawaii’

The five Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs killed in the mountains of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border were called "great Americans" who led from the front or by example.

At a special memorial service at Punchbowl -- the burial ground of more than 46,000 service men and women -- comrades of five SEALs from Alpha Platoon, Seal Delivery Team One, spoke of their grief and admiration.

Gov. Linda Lingle said, "We considered them part of our family -- our ohana -- here in Hawaii."

"Each was doing what he loved. Each was a great American, a hero. Each was protecting our way of life," she said.



Michael Murphy
Lieutenant, 29


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Murphy was described by Lt. Sean Chittick as "the fiery Irishman" from Long Island, a "quintessential hockey player who was hard as nails, quick on his feet and relentless in everything he did."

"Mike was one of most the selfless men you may ever want to know. He never wanted or needed to be the center of attention."

On the SEAL pin, "the eagle's head is bowed in tribute to our fallen teammates. It is the only eagle in any symbol in the U.S. military with its head lowered. Murph, our heads are bowed to you, along with the eagles we wear."



Daniel Healy
Senior chief petty officer, 37


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Healy was described by Chief Warrant Officer Dave Bauer as "loyal, and the most generous person I have known. He will live in our hearts, but this world will never be quite as bright as it was when Dan was with us. ...

"I know of no man I would want to be with more than Dan when facing the enemy. Dan led by example. His men were given heroic strength by the fact they knew the chief would never waiver.

"We will never forget. We will always have a picture of Dan smiling in our hearts. We will tell funny stories about Dan. ... He loved life. ... He would also want us to live each day to the fullest, just as he did."



Matthew Axelson
Petty officer, 29


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"Axe," whose body was found Sunday, was described by Petty Officer Matthew Leathers as "the smartest guy" in his platoon.

"He loved the game of golf, the taste of good beer and basically anything that would fit into his laid-back lifestyle.

"Throughout these trying times, we all knew in our hearts that even though the odds were stacked against him being alive as the last remaining man on the ground, we knew if anyone could stay alive and persevere through all of that, it would be Matt."



James Suh
Petty officer, 28


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Suh, nicknamed "Sole Assassin" and "Data" after a character on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," was described by Chief Petty Officer Brian Mulholand as having "a dry sense of humor that made everyone laugh.

"He was the perpetually inquisitive kid, and no matter where James went and whom he met, he always had a question to ask. James took the motto 'There is no such thing as a stupid question' to heart."

He volunteered to be on the rescue mission to aid the SEALs trapped by insurgent fire. "Jim loved his teammates and risked his life to save them."



Shane Patton
Petty officer, 23


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Patton was described by Petty Officer Tyler Wolfsburg as having one goal: to be a Navy SEAL like his father, James Patton. His nickname was "Cream, Hatch or Snack Attack."

"It's been said that Shane was good with everything he did or tried. ... He cared about his work. He cared about pulling his weight. He cared about his platoon.

"He loved surfing, skateboard and playing guitar. He especially loved punk rock and playing with his band, True Story."



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Body of Pearl-based
SEAL found in
Afghan mountains

The Navy says he died fighting
and denies a Taliban report of
his capture and beheading

The Navy says a Pearl Harbor-based SEAL whose body was found Sunday died in combat, despite a claim by Mullah Latif Hakimi, a purported Taliban spokesman, that he was captured and beheaded.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, 29, who was raised in Cupertino, Calif., is the fifth member of SEAL Delivery Team One, headquartered at Pearl City Peninsula, who was killed in a special operations mission on June 28.

His body was found in the mountains of Afghanistan Sunday, a Navy statement said.

"The location and disposition of the service member's remains indicate he died while fighting off enemy terrorists on or about June 28," the Navy said.

The Navy statement said the injuries on the commando's body were consistent with "a firefight, a combat operation with smalls arms fire, RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds."

Axelson had been missing since June 28 when his four-man team, which included two other members of Pearl Harbor's SEAL Delivery Team One, came under insurgent attack and radioed to be rescued.

A Chinook helicopter, carrying eight SEALS and eight Army Special Forces soldiers, responded along with another helicopter, but the first helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade and crashed.

All 16 troops, including three from SEAL Delivery Team One at Pearl Harbor, were killed.

Axelson's body was found Sunday near the chopper crash site in an area "that we had looked over before, but where his body was located was hard to find," said military spokesman Col. James Yonts, near the Pakistan border.

One member of the SEAL team that called for help was rescued July 3 and was treated and is expected to return to duty, the Navy said last week.

A Navy official yesterday the Star-Bulletin yesterday that he is also a member of the Pearl Harbor team.

The other three members of the four-man crew were killed. The bodies of two of them were recovered on July 4. One of them was identified as Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue, N.Y., a member of the Pearl Harbor unit. The body of the fourth man, Axelson, also from Pearl Harbor, was recovered Sunday.

Also part of the Pearl Harbor unit were Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel Healy of Exeter, N.H.; Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Shane Patton of Boulder City, Nev. They were among the 16 troops killed when the chopper crashed.

All five Navy SEALs from Pearl Harbor were honored yesterday at a special ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl.

The program for yesterday's service said Axelson joined the Navy in 2000.

"Besides the love he had for his wife Cindy, who was his heart and soul, the love of golf, the taste of a good beer, the warm California sun and being in the teams (SEALs) was what he liked best," the program said.

The Navy program also said, "if you think of the ideal sniper, that was Matt; he was the ultimate, quiet professional."

In addition to his wife Axelson is survived his father Cordell, mother Donna and brother Jeff.



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