If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now. The reporting is painstaking and fascinating as a window onto the mindset of a service branch that feels, quite understandably, that it hasn’t gotten its due for its sacrifice over the last decade. And no, McClatchy isn’t claiming that Meyer doesn’t deserve the MOH. They’re careful to allow that he does based on the facts not in dispute. The question is why, under those circumstances, the Corps would risk some of its credibility by embellishing those facts.
The process for awarding the medal — designed by Navy rules to leave “no margin of doubt or possibility of error” — involves reviews by commanders at every level of the nominee’s chain of command and then by top Pentagon officials. The nominating papers — known as a “medal packet” — typically comprise dozens of sworn witness statements, maps, diagrams, a draft citation and a more detailed account of the nominee’s deeds.
As the Afghan and Iraq wars wind down, senior Marine Corps officials conceded the pressure to award more medals, and to do it quickly. One senior Marine official told McClatchy that the service felt that it deserved the decoration after having served in the toughest, most violent areas of Afghanistan and Iraq.
In response to McClatchy’s findings, the Marine Corps said it stood by the official citation that was produced by the formal vetting process. Asked to explain the individual discrepancies and embellishments, the Marines drew a distinction between the citation and the account of Meyer’s deeds that the Marines constructed to help tell his story to the nation. They described that account as “Meyer’s narrative of the sequence of events,” which Marine officials said they didn’t vet…
The Marine officials, who requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, acknowledged that portions of the narrative were changed from the account Williams submitted. They said that the changes occurred between July, when Obama approved Meyer’s medal nomination, and the September White House ceremony. Inaccuracies were written into the citation and the narrative of Meyer’s deeds, although the narrative contained far more errors and exaggerations.
The president’s version drew on materials the Marine Corps provided but it was written in the White House, the Marine officials said. While there’s no indication that the White House knew that Obama was narrating an embellished story — to an audience of several hundred Meyer family members, top officials, lawmakers and service members — the revelations could tarnish one of the signature moments of his time as commander in chief.
A historian of military medals was stunned when McClatchy told him the Corps initially published Meyer’s narrative without checking it. (Meyer’s account of what happened during the firefight also differs in some ways from those of other eyewitnesses.) No one’s saying that he’s lying, merely that he’s misremembered details of an event he experienced under tremendous stress; that’s why they vet an MOH candidate’s account by comparing it to other reports from the scene, of course. So how’d the Corps’ narrative of what happened end up being “enhanced” between July and September? McClatchy says USMC brass were irate after Cpl. Rafael Peralta’s MOH candidacy was downgraded in 2004 to a Navy Cross and that they were intent on a Marine being awarded the Medal before Commandant James Conway retired last year. Once they finally had an awardee and a national stage for him at the White House, maybe the temptation to make him more of a superhero than he already is proved too great.
Jake Tapper asked Jay Carney about the story this afternoon and Carney responded that the salient question is whether Meyer deserved the Medal. Everyone — especially Meyer’s Marine comrades — agrees that he did. Exit quotation: “At least seven other participants in a battle in eastern Afghanistan backed Lt. Col. Kevin Williams in his decision to recommend Meyer for the honor. They said that as Meyer battled to retrieve the bodies of four American comrades who’d been killed in an ambush, he repeatedly braved intense enemy fire and rescued wounded and frightened Afghan soldiers.”
Update: I changed the headline because commenters are noting that the MOH isn’t “won,” it’s received. Fair enough. Other commenters are pointing to this story from a few weeks ago describing a defamation suit Meyer filed against his defense-contractor employer. He complained that they were selling better equipment to Pakistan than U.S. troops had; allegedly, they ended up accusing him of being unstable. Was the McClatchy story a hit piece orchestrated to punish him for making life tough for the defense industry? I’m thinking no simply because there are no aspersions cast on Meyer. No one claims he’s lying about what happened and no one claims he doesn’t deserve the Medal. The Corps ends up looking badly, but even their actions are presented through the lens of wanting recognition for guys who have been unfairly denied it. If it’s a smear, it’s an odd one.
Coincidentally, Meyer dropped his suit against the employer earlier today and said in a statement that they had settled their differences amicably.