After a beer with the president in the Rose Garden yesterday (his one special request!), Sgt. Dakota L. Meyer today became the first living Marine to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in 38 years.
Meyer received the Medal “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepedity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Marine Embedded Training Team 28, Regional Corps Advisory Command 37 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on 8 September, 2009,” according to the citation read at today’s award ceremony.
The citation tells the full story:
Cpl. Meyer maintained security at a patrol rally point while other members of his team moved on foot with two platoons of Afghan National Army and border police into the village of Ganjgal for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Moving into the village, the patrol was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters firing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, machine guns, from fortified positions on the slopes above. Hearing over the radio that four U.S. team members were cut off, Cpl. Meyer seized the initiative. With a fellow marine driving, Cpl. Meyer took the exposed gunner’s position in a gun truck as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the trapped U.S. team. Disregarding intense enemy fire now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Cpl. Meyer killed a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine guns and his rifle, some at near pointblank range, as he and his driver made three solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers, many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became inoperable, he directed the return to the rally point to switch to another gun truck for a third trip into the ambush area where his accurate fire directly supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers fighting their way out of the ambush. Despite a shrapnel wound to his arm, Cpl. Meyer made two more trips into the ambush area in a third gun truck accompanied by four other Afghan vehicles to recover more wounded Afghan soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members. Cpl. Meyer’s daring initiative and bold fighting spirit throughout the six-hour battle significantly disrupted the enemy’s attack and inspired the members of the command force to fight on. His unwavering courage and steadfast devotion to his U.S. and Afghan comrades in the face of almost certain death reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
President Barack Obama further attested to Meyer’s hardworking, humble and courageous spirit with a telling anecdote. When White House staffers talked to Meyer to arrange a time to talk to the president by phone so Obama could notify him that he had been approved for the Medal, Meyer asked that the president’s call not come during work hours.
“If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” explained Meyer, who has a civilian job as a construction worker. So, the president arranged to call Meyer over his lunch hour.
Fox News’ Mike Tobin says this is a young man — Meyer is just 23 — who is unintimidated and unimpressed by pomp and circumstance.
“He understands the magnitude of receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, but he doesn’t want all the attention,” Tobin said, adding that Meyer wants the focus to remain on the men who didn’t make it out of the village alive that day.
“I’m definitely not a hero — that’s the furthest from the truth,” Meyer has said, even calling his attempt to rescue his four trapped teammates “a failure” because he didn’t make it to them while they were still alive.
The president today sought to reassure Meyer of the appreciation of a grateful nation.
“Today we pay tribute to a man who placed himself in the thick of the fight again and again and again,” Obama said. “In so doing, he has earned our nation’s highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor. … Dakota, I know you’ve grappled with the grief of that day [and have called your efforts a failure.] But as your Commander in Chief, I want you to know it’s the opposite. … Because of your honor, 36 people are alive today. Because of your courage, four fallen Americans came home [and their families] were able to lay their bodies to rest.”
Meyer accepted the Medal in the name of his four fallen teammates — Marine 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton.