We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

SGT Dakota Meyer, MOH

On “60 Minutes” last night, Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer said “You either get them out alive or you die trying. If you didn’t die trying, you didn’t try hard enough.”

It’s heart-crushing to know that this young man, who braved heavy enemy fire five times, saving 36 of his comrades, sounds as if he feels, at his core, that he failed. One thing that comes out when you talk to veterans is the guilt they feel for surviving when othes did not. It seems that those who are marked by receiving the Medal of Honor feel that burden even more so. I think of Audie Murphy and how he struggled with the burden, or John Basilone, who eagerly went back to “his boys” in combat in the Pacific. We can look to the flag-raisers from Iwo Jima and read in Flags of Our Fathersjust how difficult it is to be in the blazing focus of publicity.

SGT Meyer’s actions on 8 September 2009 were simply astounding. He feels not only that any other Marine would have done just as he did, but also that Army Captain William Swenson has been unjustly denied any recognition for his actions that day. Two other Marines, Captain Ademola Fabayo and Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions, but the paperwork for any recognition for Captain Swenson was “lost”. Swenson quite rightly had criticized the officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce for refusing to provide either air or fire support during the six-hour firefight. His criticism was confirmed when a military investigation cited those officers for negligence, effectively ending their careers.

Meyer had volunteered for Afghanistan when 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines was deploying to Iraq. The Scout-Sniper became a part of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, helping to train Afghani troops. First Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin “Wayne” Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton led a combined force into Ganjgal, expecting to meet with village elders and instead being ambushed. When neither air support nor fire support was provided to the surrounded Marines, Meyer looked over to Staff Sgt. Rodriguez-Chavez and said, “We’re going in.” In five trips in and out of the kill zone, Meyer, the Staff Sergeant, Swenson, Ademola and an Afghan interpreter named Fazel, were able to save 36 Americans and Afghanis. They could not, however, reach the Marines in time to save them.

There are 85 living members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and I’ve read that Meyer has already had advice from Salvatore Giunta. Robert Maxwell told me that the Society has annual meetings and my hope is that SGT Meyer will attend, listen and share his experience with the others who have borne this burden for many years.

“If I get it, it’s good because it’s good for the Marine Corps, it’s good for the guys and it’s good for the parents. But I’m not in it for me,” he said. “These guys gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and their families have to live with it. If they give it to me, it’s not for me. It’s for those guys and their families.”

UPDATE: Meyer has applied to become a New York City fireman. He had missed the deadline for applications to join the FDNY by a number of hours, but the city has reversed course and plans to accept his application.

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