(This story has been updated.)
The White House on Thursday stood by the decision of the Department of Defense to award the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Dakota Meyer despite a report that the Marine Corps embellished some of Meyer’s actions in presenting his story to the public as President Obama awarded him the military’s highest honor.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the narrative of events that Obama read into the public record while awarding the medal to Meyer on Sept. 14 was based on documents provided by the Marine Corps that received “quite extensive” vetting.
Obama’s account of Meyer’s actions, described by the president during the award ceremony in the stately East Room, were based on “sworn testimony from Sgt. Meyer himself and eyewitness testimony from others present on the scene,” Carney said.
“White House staff also personally spoke to Sgt. Meyer,” Carney added. “Our primary source for the president’s remarks was the official documentation provided by the Marine Corps. The president remains very proud of Sgt. Meyer and the remarkable acts of bravery he displayed on that day.”
Carney was reacting to questions from reporters in the wake of a report from McClatchy Newspapers on Thursday that found portions of the events described by Obama about Meyer’s actions while serving in Afghanistan were “untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated.”
The McClatchy report, based on dozens of military documents, found that Meyer didn’t save the lives of 13 U.S. service members, leave his vehicle to rescue 24 Afghans, lead a final push to retrieve the bodies of four dead Americans or personally kill eight Taliban fighters during a night of intense fighting in a remote eastern Afghanistan province.
McClatchy’s account was assembled by a reporter who was embedded with the U.S. forces when they were ambushed by the insurgents.
While awarding Meyer the medal, Obama recounted those details of a harrowing night of Sept. 8, 2009, when Meyer ignored orders from a superior and raced to help comrades who were pinned down under heavy enemy fire, repeatedly risking his life.
“Dakota, I know that you’ve grappled with the grief of that day; that you’ve said your efforts were somehow a failure because your teammates didn’t come home,” Obama said that day. “But as your commander in chief . . . I want you to know it’s quite the opposite. You did your duty, above and beyond.”
McClatchy’s report, along with a sidebar story quoting other U.S. troops who were there that night, stated that Meyer probably acted heroically enough to deserve the Medal of Honor even if the available evidence don’t match the narrative Obama cited during the ceremony.
Yet the situation is complicated by the fact that three other U.S. service members also were involved in trying to rescue fellow troops that night and none has been awarded the military’s top honor.
The Marine Corps stood by its account of Meyer’s story, which it said was based on interviews with Meyer and other eyewitnesses, radio logs and subsequent investigation of the battle by the Army and Marine Corps.
“Due to the distance and length of time the battle lasted and the fact that the majority of the participants were in a deadly fight for their lives and the lives of their comrades, the eyewitness accounts may vary in certain detail — variations that are expected,” according to the Marine Corps statement.
Meyer, who received message of support from his followers on Twitter, thanked supporters with his own message on the social media service: “I can’t thank everyone enough for the support people on twitter and other Americans are showing me. So Thank You all.”
Asked if the White House was concerned about checking the record among the competing accounts, Carney said Obama remained proud of Meyer, who represents “the best of a generation who served through a decade of war.”
“The answer to your question is ‘no,’” Carney added. “Everyone, even the reporter who wrote yesterday’s article, agrees that Sgt. Meyer displayed extraordinary heroism. . . . The president was proud to present it on behalf of a grateful nation.”