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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006

Two Navy SEALs honored in D.C.

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Matthew Axelson

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A Pearl Harbor-based Navy SEAL who was killed in a fierce firefight with Taliban forces in Afghanistan in June 2005 was honored yesterday with the nation's second highest military award for valor.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross at a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. Also awarded a Navy Cross was Axelson's teammate, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter presented the medals to the two men's widows, Cindy Axelson and Patsy Dietz.

Winter told a crowd of more than 300 that Matthew Axelson and Danny Dietz "embodied the values of the Navy's elite SEAL community: courage, daring, ability and esprit de corps." Dietz, 25, was a native of Aurora, Colo.; Axelson was from Cupertino, Calif.

Axelson and Dietz were part of a four-man SEAL team that was on a mission to capture or kill key Taliban militia leader Ahmad Shah on June 28, 2005. The men were at the 10,000-foot level in rugged terrain near Asadabad, Afghanistan, when they came under fire from a much larger enemy force.

Dietz, Axelson and a third SEAL, Lt. Michael Murphy, were wounded but continued to fight as militia forces drove them deeper into a ravine. They radioed for help, while drawing fire to allow the fourth team member to escape.

An MH-47 Chinook helicopter was dispatched to rescue the men, but the aircraft was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. The helicopter crashed and killed all 16 people aboard: eight SEALs and eight Army crew members.

The bodies of Axelson, Dietz and Murphy were recovered along with those of the people aboard the helicopter. The fourth SEAL evaded militia forces for several days and was eventually rescued. His name has not been released by Defense Department officials.

The deaths represent the highest loss of life in a single day since Operation Enduring Freedom began nearly five years ago. It also was the single largest loss of life for naval special operations forces since the World War II Normandy invasion.

The Armed Forces Press Service contributed to this report.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.