Like all things worthy, the LT Michael Murphy Division US Naval Sea Cadets Corps in West Sayville, which began in 2012 and has graduated more than 200 cadets over its seven-year history, began with a backstory.
Several years ago, commanding officer and founder Gary Vertichio, a former commander of the Sayville American Legion, was looking after a World War II POW vet captured by Rommel and told him if he needed to see a medical doctor, he would take him. He did. He also met Maureen Murphy, Michael Murphy’s mom, who was working at the Northport VA Medical Center.
“I had been to all the ceremonies for Michael [Murphy was a United States Navy SEAL from Patchogue killed in Kunar, Afghanistan, June 28, 2005 and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration],” Vertichio said.
“Our American Legion post attended his funeral and Maureen sent us an invite to the christening of the USS Michael Murphy, the last planned U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke destroyer at the time. And I came back with this great story about this ship and its meaning.”
Vertichio was asked to attend a Navy League meeting and discuss what it was like for an Army vet to witness a ship named after a local hero and Navy SEAL. From there, he was asked to join that group. “About the third meeting their regional director asked me if I would start a cadet unit and I did. But we needed a place.”
Jack Kelly, a retired Navy vet who helps restore boats at the Long Island Maritime Museum, suggested that site.
“That same day, the Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award at MacArthur Airport was awarded to Michael posthumously,” Vertichio said about the serendipity. Maureen and Dan Murphy, Michael’s parents, approved the cadet establishment.
The cadets drill one weekend a month, 11 months of the year and arrive at 7:45 a.m., finishing up at 3:30 p.m. “It’s the Navy’s premier youth program,” Vertichio said. “We emphasize honor, courage, commitment and focus on leadership. We have squad leaders, petty officers; this year we graduated three chiefs.”
The cadets’ learning starts at home by volunteering for chores and helping out their parents. “Former shipmates return and talk about examples of honesty, integrity,” Vertichio said. “It’s up to them to get here on time with their own water, bagged lunch. They also have to have their physical training gear and make sure their uniforms are clean and up to standard. We start out with a military readiness test that involves coursework.”
The cadets range in age from 10 to 18 years old; there are seven female cadets.
The training is a good entry for military service. “They go into the Navy with a higher rank, an E3 [seaman of that rank can make up to $25,000 a year]; they have to be 18 to enlist. We’ve had 25 go into the Navy since we started and have our first lead petty officer, Matt Singleton, graduate from Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He’s attending Officer Naval School and wants to be a Navy pilot.”
The cadets are given three books at the onset: “The Constitution of the United States” [cadets have to speak about it and know the amendments]; “Heart of A Lion” by Gary Williams, about the leadership of Michael Murphy, which features workshop questions like What is Character and How Do You Influence Your Friends; and “Walk of Heroes: Profiles of Valor” by Peter Fertig about baseball heroes.
Vertichio, of Sayville, comes from a military family. His dad just celebrated his 100th birthday and is a Navy man, while his son served in Vietnam as an Army paratrooper and gunner. A former commander of the Sayville American Legion, he and Frank Ciulla initiated the renovation of Post 651 on Foster Avenue, which was pretty sad several years ago, into a vibrant, attractive building with income.
While the young men and women make the decision themselves to join the sea cadet program, parents have praised its impact to Vertichio.
“They see a change in kids who have now matured, are helpful at home and think about things other than themselves,” Vertichio said.