By Colleen Flahert
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD — Spc. Mike Murray was on his way to develop an intelligence source in Najaf, Iraq, on June 8 when insurgents attacked his Mine Resistant-Ambushed Protected vehicle with a triple-array explosively formed penetrator.
The self-forging warheads pierced through the vehicle’s armor and showered its passengers and systems with shrapnel, killing Pfc. Matthew Joseph England and severely wounding Spc. Charles Lemon. In the aftermath of the blast, the MRAP careened, directionless, until it eventually ran into a structure.
“I didn’t know who was hurt or not, so I just starting talking and yelling,” said Murray, 3rd Military Intelligence “Ghostrider” Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, on Wednesday, following his Purple Heart-pinning ceremony at the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Memorial. “Lemon did respond, so I ran over there and helped him, and talked to him the whole time.”
Recalling the combat life-saver skills he’d learned in basic training, Murray applied tourniquets to Lemon’s bleeding legs and protected him until help arrived, still unaware of the extent of his own injuries — shrapnel in his shoulder and backside.
Lemon eventually lost his legs, but survived.
Rely on training
Murray, 20, had been in-country for three months, having deployed in support of Operation New Dawn just days after finishing his advanced individual training. He’d been in the Army for less than two years.
Capt. David Griffith, commander of Maddog Troop, 3rd “Thunder” Squadron, to which Murray was attached at the time of the incident, credited the soldier with saving Lemon’s life.
England’s death was tragic, Griffith said, and “the potential loss of another soldier would have been twice as painful.”
Brig. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo, Fort Hood and III Corps deputy commander, pinned Murray with his Purple Heart. Although the ceremony honored the soldier’s sacrifice, he said, it also honored his living out the fourth tenet of the Army creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade behind.”
DiSalvo said he greeted Lemon and his mother, Cherl Towns, when they flew back to Fort Hood days after the incident after a stop in Germany. He told Murray that had Towns been at the ceremony, she would “hug you and kiss you for helping save her son’s life.”
Living the Army creed to the extent that he could, the brigadier general added, Lemon’s first words were, “‘How’s my team doing?'”
Col. John B. Richardson, regimental commander, said he couldn’t help but be touched by DiSalvo’s image of Lemon’s mother, who might have lost her son without Murray’s actions.
“These guys react and do such selfless acts,” he said. “(Murray) completely disregarded his own injuries to help.”
The incident also highlighted the importance of training, said Richardson, adding that he hoped those present would be inspired, “in that situation, to be able to react based on training, as Spc. Murray did.”
Murray’s mother, Angela Murray of Dallas, traveled to the ceremony with his grandparents, Mike and Ella Weatherford, and his sister, Nicole, 19.
Although Angela Murray was worried when she received word of an incident involving her son, she said, she was proud and not at all surprised to learn the details.
“It’s typical of these kids,” she said, referring to the soldiers gathered around her son. Of Murray, in particular, she said, “He’s always put people ahead of himself.”
His grandmother added, “Whatever he tackles, he tackles all the way.”
Mike Weatherford said it was “amazing” to see his grandson be pinned, “knowing what he went through.” But, he added, “He’s always been like this.”
True to Griffith’s description of Murray as a “quiet professional,” the soldier said he didn’t dwell on the incident and planned on an Army career. “It is what it is,” he said, shrugging. “It happened. Let it be.”