This week the White House announced that former Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer of Greensburg, Ky., will receive the Medal of Honor. A date for the ceremony has yet to be set. Meyer, together with Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and Army Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry, is the third living Medal of Honor recipient from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. He is also the second Marine recipient, and the first living Marine recipient since the Vietnam War. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham received his Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in Iraq. Meyer receives America’s highest decoration for military valor as a result of his heroic actions during an ambush that occurred in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, on Sept. 8, 2009.
In 2009, Afghan and American forces had stepped up military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban in the provinces bordering Pakistan. The goal was to create a situation that would give villages an incentive to switch sides. In early September, they received breakthrough news. Village elders from Ganjgal had agreed to renounce their support of the Taliban. They requested that a force come to the village to provide security and other assistance. A joint force consisting of about 90 soldiers and police officers from the Afghan National Security Force and a dozen U.S. military trainers was organized. At around dawn on Sept. 8, the column approached Ganjgal, a fortress-like village located on a rise at the eastern end of a valley flanked by steep mountains.
It was a trap.
When the column’s lead elements reached the outskirts of the village, RPG, machine gun, and AK-47 fire erupted in front and on both sides. They had driven into a well-prepared ambush manned by 100 to 150 Taliban insurgents. Jonathan S. Landay, a reporter for the McClatchy syndicate, was with the column. To reach the town, the column had to drive uphill on a winding road and pass between terraced fields bordered by stone walls. Those stone walls isolated the long column into individual elements, making it difficult to provide mutual support. Landay later said, “It quickly became apparent that the insurgents, while keeping us pinned down, were beginning to try and flank us and the rest of the force by moving around on the northern and southern ridges that surrounded the valley.”
“This isn’t about me. If anything comes out of it for me, it’s for those guys.”
—U.S. Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer
Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson was in one of the foremost elements. Suddenly he shouted into his radio, “We’re surrounded! They’re moving in on us!”
At least twice, two-man teams, supported by an up-armored Humvee mounting a .50-cailber machine gun, tried to push forward and rescue them. During one of those attempts, Meyer was wounded in the elbow by shrapnel. When the staff sergeant with him tried to get him to leave, Meyer refused, claiming the wound wasn’t incapacitating.
As this was going on, the American commanding officer was on the radio requesting artillery and air support. He was told that because of new rules of engagement designed to limit civilian casualties, artillery support was out of the question. He was assured that air support would be there “within five minutes.” But Landay noted by his watch that 80 minutes passed before the first helicopters arrived.
When they did, the pilots identified where the trapped Marines were located and passed the word to the troops on the ground. That’s when Meyer took matters into his own hands. Ignoring his wound and heavy enemy fire, Meyer charged forward on foot through the kill zone to reach them. He found Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton, and an Afghan soldier they were training all spread out on the ground, dead, their weapons and radios gone.
Though too late to save their lives, he would not let them down in death. Ignoring his shrapnel wound and the continued enemy fire, Meyer, together with some Afghan troops, brought their fallen comrades out.
Two investigations were launched to determine what had happened. But that was a separate matter. For Meyer, he knew what he had to do that day; and what he did has been recognized as being “above and beyond the call of duty.”