About War Hero's Spirit Fills Bravest Hearts
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War Hero's Spirit Fills Bravest Hearts info
February 3, 2007
By Jonathan Lemire, Daily News Staff Writer
Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy never set foot in the Spanish Harlem firehouse - but his courageous presence is felt there every day.
A picture of the slain sailor who is under consideration for the Medal of Honor hangs in the Third Ave. quarters of Engine 53/Ladder 43 and beneath it is the firehouse's "El Barrio's Bravest" patch that Murphy was wearing when he was slain in the mountains of Afghanistan in June 2005.
"Since Sept. 11, people think that firefighters are heroes," said Firefighter Tom Corrigan. "But Navy SEALs, these are the real heroes, these are the men who put themselves in danger for us."
Murphy's best friend, Owen O'Callaghan, had been assigned to Engine 53 when Murphy finished his training and was set to deploy overseas to Afghanistan.
"He really loved that I was a firefighter and before he left, he asked for 25 FDNY patches for his uniform and his fellow SEALs' uniforms," said O'Callaghan, who met Murphy in 1996 when they both worked as lifeguards in Brookhaven, L.I.
"He thought it'd be a visible reminder of Sept. 11 and of why he and his men were over there fighting for us," continued O'Callaghan. "When his fiancée told me that Mike wore it every day, I couldn't have been more proud."
Soon after Murphy's death, several men from his SEAL unit visited New York to pay their respects to their fallen colleague's family. Their next stop was the firehouse, and an immediate kinship between sailors and firemen was formed.
They presented the memorial plaque to the firefighters, who to a man, touch it every time they pass it in the firehouse.
"Every time I'd walk by it, I'd tap it and think of him," said O'Callaghan, who is now in training to become a Suffolk County cop. "It would feel like he was there."
And the bond between the SEALs and El Barrio's Bravest has persevered. The firehouse quickly gained a reputation as a safe haven for SEALs, and even soldiers who have no connection to Murphy will often spend a night at Engine 53, Ladder 43 when they are on leave in New York.
"In a way, it's still a tribute to Mike," said Capt. Al Hagan of Ladder 43. "And it's our way of showing these guys that we appreciate what they do. Our firehouse is their home."