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An American Hero, Two Paternos, and Three Roses

Just over a month ago, the parents of Lt. Michael Murphy somberly walked southeast until they reached College Avenue. They roamed for three blocks and then made a sharp right-hand turn onto Heister Street, where muralist Michael Pilato was patiently waiting. Their son’s memorial had just been dedicated and now Murphy was painted on the same mural that he walked past nearly every day as a student.

There was one thing left, though. The parents of the American hero had to place their handprints on their son’s likeness.

“When I was ready to put their handprints in, [Murphy’s father] asked, ‘Can you please put my wife’s handprint in his heart,” Pilato said. Of course, the local muralist obliged.

Located at the foot of the fallen hero is a large clay pot in which holds a singular white rose. Murphy and only two other figures are depicted with white roses on the mural. The other two are Joe and Sue Paterno.

According to Pilato, after Lt. Murphy’s death was made public, the first person to call the Murphy’s was Hilary Clinton. Joe and Sue Paterno were second. The Paternos placed a call to the Murphy’s, a family whom they had no prior contact with, in attempt to console their loss. Pilato recalls that the family was shocked when the Paternos first reached out to them.

“They were very comforted by that call from the Paternos,” he said.

But why the roses? Pilato said that the Murphy’s also received an arrangement of white roses from the Paternos shortly after the initial phone call. That, the local muralist says, is why he recently chose to paint white roses in hands of Penn State’s most famous couple.

Michael Murphy’s story of heroism has been celebrated and commemorated. In June of 2005, he and three other Navy SEALs were dropped deep behind enemy lines as part of a covert reconnaissance mission. Their mission was compromised after locals spotted the squad, who presumably alerted nearby Taliban forces.

Soon after, an intense firefight erupted between the two sides. The opposing militia quickly outnumbered the four SEALs. As the enemy closed in on the group, each of the SEALs were wounded. At one point during the battle, Murphy left his secure position, consciously exposing himself to enemy gunfire, to find open air and make contact with Bagram Air Base.

Three of the four men were eventually killed during the battle. In 2007, Murphy posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroics.

You can read more about Lt. Michael Murphy’s heroic story here.


Pilato recently returned to State College and has been renovating his mural all week. Here are some other notes:

Pilato also decided to add 13-year-old Kelsey Hirsch to his mural. Hirsch created BANDS4RAINN, a charitable effort that sells blue wristbands with the words “Hope. Courage. Strength.” inscribed to create sexual abuse awareness.

Days after the Sandusky scandal broke Hirsch asked her father, a Penn State alum himself, “How can I help?” Since then, Hirsch has been selling wristbands and taking donations outside Beaver Stadium during home games.

BANDS4RAINN has raised over $11,000 since its conception. Visit here for more information.

Lastly, Pilato has elected to remove the halos from all 15 deceased members of his mural. Instead he is adding dateplates that lists each person’s lifespan and a simply message of “Rest in Peace.” Joe Paterno, who’s halo was removed in July, was the first to receive the update on Monday.


About the Author

Ryan Beckler

Ryan is a senior in the Smeal College of Business majoring in Marketing. He is a Lion Ambassador who loves giving tours to prospective students. His favorite activities include distributing news and consuming Chipotle.


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