At a White House ceremony Thursday, former Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military award – for disregarding orders in Afghanistan.
Rather than stay at a relatively safe distance from an intense fire-fight in which fellow Marines, US Army soldiers, and Afghan soldiers had been caught in an ambush – which he had been ordered to do – Meyer went time and again into the killing zone. During the six-hour battle, he evacuated 12 of those pinned down, provided cover for another 24 to withdraw to safety, and killed at least eight Taliban fighters in the process.
Meyer is the third living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry are the other living recipients of the award. Seven Medal of Honor awards have been made posthumously for heroic action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
IN PICTURES: US military muscle
Meyer’s Medal of Honor citation details that day’s intense combat:
“When the forward element of his combat team began to be hit by intense fire from roughly 50 Taliban insurgents dug-in and concealed on the slopes above Ganjgal village, Corporal Meyer mounted a gun-truck, enlisted a fellow Marine to drive, and raced to attack the ambushers and aid the trapped Marines and Afghan soldiers. During a six hour fire fight, Corporal Meyer single-handedly turned the tide of the battle, saved 36 Marines and soldiers and recovered the bodies of his fallen brothers. Four separate times he fought the kilometer up into the heart of a deadly U-shaped ambush. During the fight he killed at least eight Taliban, personally evacuated 12 friendly wounded, and provided cover for another 24 Marines and soldiers to escape likely death at the hands of a numerically superior and determined foe.”
“On his first foray his lone vehicle drew machine gun, mortar, rocket grenade and small arms fire while he rescued five wounded soldiers. His second attack disrupted the enemy’s ambush and he evacuated four more wounded Marines. Switching to another gun-truck because his was too damaged they again sped in for a third time, and as turret gunner killed several Taliban attackers at point blank range and suppressed enemy fire so 24 Marines and soldiers could break-out. Despite being wounded, he made a fourth attack with three others to search for missing team members. Nearly surrounded and under heavy fire he dismounted the vehicle and searched house to house to recover the bodies of his fallen team members.”
For Meyer, 21 years old at the time and now a sergeant in the Marine Corps Individual Ready Reserve and a construction worker in his home state of Kentucky, the day of honor at the White House is also a sharp reminder of “the worst day in my life” – the day when he lost so many friends.
"As your commander in chief, I want you to know that it’s quite the opposite,” President Obama told Meyer during the ceremony, which was attended by the members of the young Marine’s combat team as well as family members. “You did your duty above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps you love.”
Obama noted that Thursday’s White House event came almost 10 years to the day after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that led to war in Afghanistan. Meyer, Obama said, represents "the best of a generation that has served with distinction through a decade of war."
What has made this bittersweet moment more tolerable for Meyer is knowing that on the same day – and at his request – hometown memorial services are being held for the four battle buddies he tried to rescue but who didn’t return alive.
The nation’s highest military honor was awarded 464 times for actions in World War II, and in 246 cases in the Vietnam War.
IN PICTURES: US military muscle