A former Marine corporal who repeatedly braved enemy fire in attempting to rescue four comrades in Taliban-infested eastern Afghanistan has been selected to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest award given to members of the armed services, the White House announced Friday.
Dakota Meyer, a former turret gunner and scout sniper from Kentucky, is only the third living veteran of the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts to be chosen for the honor, and the first living Marine to designated for the award since 1973.
Meyer, 23, will be honored at a White House ceremony next month for “courageous actions” while serving in Afghanistan’s eastern Konar Province in Sept. 8 2009, according to a statement issued by the White House.
Meyer charged multiple times into a Taliban-held area near the eastern village of Ganjgal after learning that three fellow Marines and a Navy corpsman were missing after being attacked by a group of insurgents. Under heavy enemy fire, he located the four Americans--all of them dead--and extracted their bodies with the help of Afghan government troops.
“Sergeant Meyer embodies all that is good about our nation’s Corps of Marines,” said Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps in a statement.
Meyer was with a small team of Marine Corps advisers embedded with an Afghan unit in a remote and mountainous cluster of villages in eastern Afghanistan when they were ambushed by a much larger force of insurgents.
Four American servicemen, eight Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the fight in which the U.S. and Afghan forces were pinned down by the insurgents. The Marines called repeatedly for help, but an Army unit stationed near the site of the battle was slow to respond with supporting artillery fire, resulting in a U.S. Army major receiving a career-ending letter of reprimand.
Meyer charged into enemy fire five times to recover the bodies of his fellow Marines and the Afghan soldiers.
“I lost a lot of Afghans that day,” Meyer told a Marine Corps journalist. “And I’ll tell you right now - they were just as close to me as those Marines were. At the end of the day, I don’t care if they’re Afghans, Iraqis, Marines or Army; it didn’t matter. They’re in the same [expletive] you are, and they want to go home and see their family just as bad as you do.”
Bing West, who served as a combat adviser in Vietnam, described Meyer’s heroics in his book “The Wrong War.”
“For a man to charge into fire once requires grit that is instinctive in few men,” West wrote. “To do so a second time…requires inner resolve beyond instinct; to repeat a third time is courage above and beyond any call of duty; to go in a fourth time is to know you will die; to go in a fifth time is beyond comprehension.”
The Obama administration had previously awarded the medal to two other living Afghan veterans. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who received the award on Nov. 27, 2010, and Sgt 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry, who was pinned at a White House ceremony last month, are the only living service members given the honor for actions in combat after Sept. 11, 2001.
Meyer is only the second Marine to receive the medal for heroism in Iraq or Afghanistan after Cpl. Jason Dunham who was awarded the medal posthumously for throwing his body on a grenade.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this post