Bond Forged Between New York Department, Navy SEALs

Updated: 10-15-2007 09:43:32 PM

Newsday (New York)

Lt. Michael Murphy wore it on every mission, including his last - the fiery red patch of Engine 53, Ladder 43, El Barrio's Bravest.

Now the East Harlem firefighters wear one, too.

This patch, sewn on the sleeves of their jackets, shows the silhouettes of five Navy SEALs standing against a United States flag.

Murphy, who grew up in Patchogue, is to be honored posthumously on Oct. 22 with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House. Three members of the firehouse will be there.

The bond is more than symbolic. Members of Murphy's elite group of fighters have come to stay at the firehouse. And there, company members often touch Murphy's memorial in remembrance as they pass.

The connection between these firefighters and SEALs began with a friendship and a question.

Murphy, a Navy lieutenant, completed SEAL training just after Sept. 11, 2001. Now, stationed at Pearl Harbor, he wanted a symbol to motivate his team. He called his friend Owen O'Callaghan, a firefighter for Engine 53. The two had worked together as summer lifeguards in Lake Ronkonkoma after high school and during college. On Sept. 11, O'Callaghan had lost an uncle, an FDNY lieutenant who had been close to retirement.

"He called me up, looking for something to remind the guys what they're doing this for and why they're there," O'Callaghan recalled. "He asked me, 'Any chance I could get a firehouse patch for the guys?' Just to remind them what they were doing this for."

O'Callaghan did.

"When Mike was away, he would e-mail me all the time, saying, 'Hey, be careful. Take care of yourself,'" recalled O'Callaghan, now a Suffolk County police officer. "I would say, 'Who are you kidding, buddy?' The guy was a Navy SEAL, doing crazy stuff."

Shortly after Murphy was killed in action in June 2005, the firehouse learned of his death. But it was not until later that O'Callaghan and his colleagues learned how Murphy and three teammates, on a secret mission to capture a high-ranking Taliban official, had been surrounded by dozens of armed insurgents on a mountainside in Afghanistan.

Murphy is credited with running into the open - risking his life and suffering a bullet wound - in a last-ditch attempt to call for help and save his fellow SEALs.

On their return from Afghanistan, some of Murphy's teammates presented the firehouse with a framed memorial containing the slightly frayed firehouse patch, inscribed in black ink with his nickname, "Murph," that Murphy wore the day he died.

It hangs on a firehouse wall, and soon will be joined by a copy of his Medal of Honor citation, said firefighter Nate Evans, who designed a memorial page for Murphy on the firehouse's Web site. A larger group from the firehouse will travel to Washington on Oct. 23 to hand out firehouse T-shirts at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and attend a second ceremony commemorating Murphy's award.

"They're over there fighting for our country and we're here, we're fighting fires," said firefighter Chris Napolitano, 32, of Oceanside. "It's like a brotherhood."