President Obama presented the Medal of Honor today to a Marine who saved 36 lives after an ambush in Afghanistan two years ago.
In awarding Dakota Meyer the military’s highest honor at a White House ceremony, Obama said: “Today, we pay tribute to an American who placed himself in the thick of the fight — again and again and again.”
The military said a wounded Meyer — a 21-year-old manning a gun turret on a Humvee — provided cover for troops during a six-hour firefight with the Taliban on Sept. 8. 2009.
Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, driving the Humvee, went into the “killing zone” five times, Obama said, picking up wounded men and dead bodies; they saved the lives of 13 U.S. Marines and Army soldiers, as well as 23 Afghan soldiers.
Meyer killed at least eight Taliban insurgents despite shrapnel wounds to his arm.
The White House says Meyer, of Columbia, Ky., is the third living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the first Marine so honored.
In his remarks, Obama noted Meyer accepted the medal in honor of four comrades who did not survive the attack.
Meyer has “grappled” with memories of those deaths, Obama said, and sometimes regards his efforts as a “failure” because of the deaths of those four brothers — but the truth is just the opposite.
“You did your duty, above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps that you love,” Obama said. “Because of your honor, 36 men are alive today.”
“Because of your courage, four fallen American heroes came home,” Obama added, and their families were able to “lay their sons to rest with dignity.”
Citing Meyer’s comment that every member of the team is important, Obama said: “That’s a lesson that we all have to remember — as citizens, and as a nation — as we meet the tests of our time, here at home and around the world. To our Marines, to all our men and women in uniform, to our fellow Americans, let us always be faithful.”
Meyer — now a civilian — is also “one of the most down-to-Earth guys that you will ever meet,” Obama told the audience.
When a White House staffer called to arrange a phone conversation with the president about the Medal of Honor, Meyer said he couldn’t talk at at the time because he was at work.
“He said, ‘if I don’t work, I don’t get paid,’ ” Obama said. “So we arranged to make sure he got the call during his lunch break. I told him the news, and then he went right back to work. ”
The president joked: “I do appreciate, Dakota, you taking my call.”
During that call, Meyer asked if he could have a beer with the president — which they did on Wednesday.