Blair Oaks High School students and other people from the community have once again organized a drive to bake and collect donated cookies to help share holiday cheer with sailors aboard the U.S.S. Michael Murphy.
"I'm very grateful that they keep Michael and his name alive," Maureen Murphy said Wednesday. Maureen is the mother of the fallen, Medal of Honor-posthumously decorated U.S. Navy SEAL lieutenant from New York for whom the ship is named.
Michael and two other SEAL teammates were killed in 2005 in Afghanistan during a gunfight with Taliban fighters during Operation Red Wings. Michael knowingly exposed himself to enemy gunfire and risked his life by leaving cover to go into an open area of the mountainous terrain to get a better communication signal to call for help, according to the U.S. Navy's account of the events.
Though severely wounded, he succeeded and returned to cover to continue the fight. A rescue team was dispatched, but their transport helicopter was shot down — killing another 16 members of Navy and Army special forces.
Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell — the lone survivor of Michael's SEAL team — wrote the book "Lone Survivor" about Red Wings that was adapted into the movie of the same title, and Maureen and parents of his two other fallen SEAL teammates have in recent years spoken to students at assemblies at Blair Oaks and Calvary Lutheran high schools.
"'If anyone wants to bake cookies with me, let me know,'" Blair Oaks High School social studies teacher Nathan Holtmeyer recalled of Maureen's invitation when she spoke for people to help her bake cookies for the sailors aboard the Hawaii-based vessel named after her son, which she christened in 2011.
"I didn't think anybody would really take me seriously," Maureen said of her invitation. When baking the cookies was just a sole personal effort, she said she sent six boxes to the ship's captain at his home.
In December 2015 — after Maureen and other parents had spoken a month earlier at the high school — Blair Oaks students, under the leadership of former teacher and current assistant girls' basketball coach Sarah Bohl and Holtmeyer, collected more than 3,000 cookies to contribute.
"Oh, those are the kids who took me seriously," Maureen said when the ship's captain called her to report 140 boxes had shown up at his door. She said the crew of the ship received so many that at one point, they shared cookies with an adjacent ship, and then with a Korean ship also in port.
Holtmeyer said the number of cookies made or received varies each year, but "so far, we're planning on (baking) around 30 dozen," he said of this year, adding the count might be 50 dozen including donated batches from the community.
People can bring cookies or a check made out to Blair Oaks High School to Holtmeyer's classroom today, and cookies and donations were able to be received Wednesday at Legends Bank in downtown Jefferson City.
Operation Bugle Boy President Chris Jarboe said in a news release that any variety of cookie will be accepted, and people can drop off bags at Holtmeyer's room if the cookies are in ziplock bags.
The money helps cover the cost of shipping the cookies, which Holtmeyer said can range from $200-$500.
He said 10-15 students typically help out — all volunteers — and though sugar and chocolate chip are the staple varieties, people have made other kinds such as red velvet cookies.
"Number one reason, the moment you stop talking about someone is the moment they're gone," he said of why Michael Murphy's story has moved him and students so much.
"The kids now, they've grown up with this war," Maureen said of another reason students relate to and have been moved by her son's story, along with that many sailors aboard the U.S.S. Michael Murphy are not that much older.
Most high school students today hadn't even been born yet when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that prompted the invasion of Afghanistan that same year happened, but U.S. involvement in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere against evolving factions of jihadi militant groups has since continued and expanded.
"Whether it's baking cookies for the ship that's in his name or whatever the case is, they'll never be forgotten," Holtmeyer said of those who've been lost in combat, including Michael Murphy.
The U.S.S. Michael Murphy has recently participated in an annual multinational naval exercise in Australia and visited the capital of Papua New Guinea ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Summit held there last month, according to the Navy. The ship is part of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which supports operations in the Indo-Pacific region as the largest of forward-deployed U.S. Fleets.
Maureen said she's not only grateful that her son is remembered, but also those who are in service to keep the country safe.