Friday, September 16, 2011

The extraordinary bravery of Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer

Many will have seen the story of Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer, who was presented with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, by President Barack Obama.

Meyer charged five times in a Humvee into heavy enemy fire in an action in Afghanistan to rescue comrades who came under attack by Taliban insurgents.

According to a Washington Post story:
Meyer's courage during the six-hour ambush and firefight saved the lives of 36 people, both Americans and Afghans. He killed at least eight Taliban insurgents. Firing from the front turret on top of the Humvee driven by a fellow Marine, he provided cover for his team, allowing many to escape likely death.

He was defying orders from his commanders, who told him to stay back. The "kill zone," they said, was too dangerous. But the young corporal, just 21 years old at the time, knew his friends were trapped on the early morning of September 2009.

When I read this I was reminded of a movie I was once saw called "We Were Soldiers." It's based on a true account of the early days of American involvement in Vietnam, specifically about the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965. What made the battle important was that it was the first major engagement between the United States Army and North Vietnamese Army regulars.

Casualties on both sides were horrific and, according to the narrative, the battle was a moment in the war when U.S. decision makers might have realized they were in no small skirmish but rather in a conflict they were unlikely to win.

All of this is prelude to a comment near the end of the film by one of the main characters, commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Harold "Hal" Moore (played by Mel Gibson, of all people).

Although expressed far more eloquently, the point of Moore's closing comments were that, whatever the politics of a given war, at a certain point in time soldiers fight primarily to stay alive and to keep their friends alive.

What I found most compelling about Dakota Meyer was that he has had difficulty coping with the fact that, though he saved so many, four Americans died in the ambush, four comrades. He has said that he struggles with the national attention, for being recognized for the worst day of his life.

Surely most of us cannot possibly imagine what it must be like to be in such a situation or what it takes to respond in the way that Dakota Meyer did.

And as if we needed any more proof of the character of this remarkable young man, he requested that memorial services for those who died on that day be held in their hometowns at the same time he received the medal of honor.

A fascinating postscript to the story is that Meyer is now 23 years old, out of the military and working construction in his home state of Kentucky. Apparently, when the White House was arranging the phone call from the president to inform Meyer that the medal had been approved, he worried about whether he could take the call while on the job, so they arranged for the president to call during Meyer's lunch hour.

Extraordinary bravery followed by a return to everyday life, for those lucky enough to come home.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann Ghost.)

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  • He's probably more of a hero for not thinking of himself as one, but isn't it sad that a man like that has to worry about keeping his job?

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 11:58 AM  

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