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.
Hours before this McClatchy report was published, the Marine Corps inserted a disclaimer into its official online account of Meyer’s heroic actions. The Web page now reads that the summary “was compiled in collaboration” with Meyer and Marine Corps Public Affairs.
A prominent historian of military medals, Doug Sterner, expressed disbelief at the idea that the Marine Corps would publicize an account of a complex battle based solely on the recipient’s recollections.
“Give me a break,” Sterner said. “A recipient is responsible for writing his narrative? I have never heard of such a thing.”
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.
The White House said Obama’s remarks were based primarily on “extensive documentation provided by the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps,” including sworn testimony from Meyer and other eyewitnesses. It also relied on news reports and on a 2011 book, “The Wrong War” by Bing West. However, McClatchy found that the book’s account of the battle is riddled with inaccuracies.