It has been more than a year since President Obama draped the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest valor award, around the neck of Dakota Meyer.
Today, the Marine’s own account of the Sept. 8, 2009, ambush in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, that led to the award hits shelves in bookstores. “Into the Fire,” written with the help of author Bing West, recounts the botched mission in which he and several other U.S. service members risked life and limb in an attempt to recover the bodies of four fellow members of an embedded training team that had gone missing in a maelstrom of enemy fire.
Last month, Meyer provided me an advance copy of his book, then sat down to discuss it. In this resulting Marine Corps Times cover story, he discussed a variety of revelations in the work, including his failed suicide attempt, his anger over what happened that day and what it’s like to be one of the only living Americans to wear the Medal of Honor for actions completed since 9/11.
Foremost, the book is “a matter of capturing what happened,” he said at the time. “It’s all about being held accountable for your actions in life.”
Meyer has been active on his Twitter account today, adding updates about some of the media engagements he has planned to promote the book. He’ll appear on “The O’Reilly Factor” on FOX News tonight, for example.
Undoubtedly, there will be other media appearances in coming weeks. He’ll face questions on everything from what happened to why the former Army captain alongside him that day, Will Swenson, still hasn’t received the Medal of Honor despite being put up for the award. At last check, Swenson’s award nomination reportedly had been moved to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Last week, I reported for Marine Corps Times that Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer acknowledges in his new book that he attempted to kill himself in 2010, one year after surviving the battle that led to him receiving the nation’s top valor award.
The story generated a wide range of reaction from readers. Some blasted me for writing a story specifically about Meyer’s struggles, even though he chose to speak about it freely in an interview and disclosed the suicide attempt in his forthcoming book, “Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.” Others praised the story and Meyer’s willingness to share his struggles, saying it may help other people to open up about coping with combat stress.
Today, Marine Corps Times and Army Times alike take it a step farther. In both papers, we outline a variety of details in “Into the Fire” and what it covers. Meyer pulls few punches in the book, especially when outlining what it was like being on a battlefield under fire for hours while officers in a nearby tactical operations center repeatedly denied fire support.
With the assistance of his co-writer, author Bing West, he also lays out how the Army botched a Medal of Honor case for Will Swenson, a former Army captain who fought alongside him in the battle.
In Marine Corps Times, Meyer also discusses what it’s like living with the Medal of Honor. It’s a complicated world, he says, in which many organizations request his time and celebrity and he must deal with “antagonists” who question whether his actions in the Sept. 8, 2009, battle in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, have been portrayed accurately.
The book hits shelves on Sept. 25. In coming weeks, it seems likely that you’ll hear plenty about it on national television and other media outlets.
Here’s a video excerpt from our interview last week:
Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer’s new book is scheduled to be released in September, three years after the devastating battle that led to his heroic actions.
“Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War” will be available Sept. 25, according to its listing on Amazon.com. The 272-page book is written by Meyer and Bing West, a Marine veteran who has authored several best-selling works. It will be published by Random House, which also has it listed on its website.
The cover image of the book shows Meyer in Afghanistan in 2009, wearing full battle rattle with an Afghan landscape behind him. The work is described this way on Amazon:
In September of 2009, several hundred Taliban ambushed a company of Afghan soldiers and their Marine advisors. The enemy had the company pinned down, with only one exposed road leading in and out of the village. Twenty-one-year-old Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer disobeyed his commanding officer and took command. Without reinforcements or artillery support, he charged forward down the only road five times under withering fire. He killed a dozen Taliban and rescued 18 Afghans and Americans. The company finally rallied and the enemy pulled back. When the story finally became known, Dakota was awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States highest honour. Yet the story of that day remains mired in controversy even now. For a man to charge into fire once requires grit; to do so five times is beyond comprehension.
Dakota’s performance was the greatest act of courage in the war, because he repeated it and repeated it. In this fast-paced narrative of non-stop action, we hear the story from Dakota’s own perspective, and come to know our narrator as a true American hero: a young man raised on a cattle farm in Kentucky with uncompromising morals and a fierce determination to do what’s right.
The numbers of individuals saved and killed were later called into question in a report by McClatchy journalist Jonathan Landay, who was embedded with the unit ambushed that day. It seems likely that the publication of this book would seek to set the record straight.
We’ll be paying close attention to the details in the book here at Marine Corps Times. Since 2009, we’ve published four cover stories heavily influenced by the Battle of Ganjgal.
Previous Marine Corps Times cover stories on Ganjgal
– Families outraged over engagement restrictions
– Report: Army denied aid to team under fire
– Heroism in ambush may yield top valor awards
– MoH nominee says he does not feel like a hero
GREENSBURG, Ky. — It has been a long journey.
Dakota Meyer will receive the Medal of Honor on Sept. 15, two years after he braved enemy fire multiple times in Afghanistan in attempt to save fellow U.S. service members in Ganjgal, Afghanistan. He made it out of the valley alive, and they didn’t. It’s a tough situation to digest.
Marine Corps Times readers know the story well by now — various aspects of it have led me to write three cover stories since early last year, including a profile on Meyer.
With the White House announcement now official, however, I made my way down to Meyer’s hometown this week with staff photographer Chris Maddaloni.
We met him at his grandparents’ farm Tuesday in this rural town of 2,500 people, sitting in their living room to discuss the battle, its aftermath and how he handles all the attention. An excerpt of the interview is available here:
We’ll have a lot more in next week’s print edition of Marine Corps Times, but I thought it was worth sharing some personal observations here.
Meyer has taken the time to do at least 20 interviews since the White House’s announcement — a heavy workload that must be both monotonous and exhausting. Still, he sits dutifully, answering questions from reporters — some of whom clearly haven’t done their research and ask dumb questions, based on a quick Google search.
Meyer still loves to crack jokes, and clearly has a great relationship with his grandparents, Dwight and Jean Meyer. Married 58 years, they’re planning to fly to Washington for the ceremony. They proudly shared their recollection of the Korean War, which Dwight served in as a Marine. His haircut is still squared away, snow-white hair and all.
With the dust starting to settle, it’s time to set the record straight about Dakota Meyer, who will become the first living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in decades.
As someone who has covered the fallout of the Sept. 8, 2009, ambush in Gangjal, Afghanistan, since days after it occurred, I’ve noticed a variety of inaccuracies work their way into stories about the incident, Meyer’s service and the Medal of Honor process. Many of them cite my story last week that confirmed the award decision had been made, so it seems fair for to correct the record.
Let’s look at a few inaccuracies:
Meyer will be the first living Marine in 41 years to receive the Medal of Honor.
That’s a falsehood, and since it was reported by the Associated Press, it has been appeared in dozens, if not hundreds, of news accounts.
I reported last week that Meyer would be the first living Marine recipient of the award since now-retired Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg received the medal for actions for 41 years ago in Vietnam. I assume that’s where the 41-year figure comes from, but there’s nuance there that can’t be left out.
It’s true that Kellogg was honored for valor 41 years ago on March 11, 1970, but he received the medal from President Nixon at the White House on Oct 15, 1973. That means it has been about 38 years since the last living recipient received the Medal of Honor.
Meyer acted as a sniper in the battle.
Meyer was an infantry rifleman in the Corps, and trained as scout sniper, too. During the Battle of Ganjgal, however, he was serving as a member of an embedded training team, and never functioned as a sniper. There were snipers providing overwatch during the battle, but they were with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
On a related note, some media accounts said Meyer was in Afghanistan at the time with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. As Marine Corps Times previously reported, Meyer was with 3/3 before his deployment in 2009, but volunteered for the training team assignment instead of deploying to Iraq for a second time.
Meyer currently lives in Austin, Texas.
I’ll take the heat for this one. In Marine Corps Times’ initial story posted last week, I reported that Meyer lived in Austin. Meyer shared that detail with me in April, but subsequently moved back to his hometown of Greensburg, Ky., a few months later. He couldn’t be reached for comment last week, but I have subsequently verified and corrected our initial story. The first report led to confusion for some Texas news outlets.
Meyer was a sergeant in the battle.
Some media outlets have reported that Meyer was a sergeant in the battle, while others say he was a corporal.
The truth is, he was a corporal at the time, and left active-duty service as one in June 2010. He has subsequently been promoted to sergeant while in the Individual Ready Reserve, an organization in which Marines can be called back to active-duty service, but rarely are. He wore sergeant’s stripes at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball last year.
By now, many Marine Corps Times readers have read the news that the service has recommended that a former Marine corporal receive the Medal of Honor for valor last year in eastern Afghanistan.
It’s a story that we first broke last Monday online, citing a Marine source with knowledge of the awards process. It was subsequently confirmed by other Marine sources last week.
The circumstances of the case should make it no surprise that former Cpl. Dakota Meyer, 22, is hesitant to discuss his actions.
As we first outlined in a cover story in July, he is credited with running into a kill zone on foot to find four missing Marines, who had been pinned down and under fire by insurgents for hours in an early-morning ambush on Sept. 8, 2009. He and a staff sergeant already had been turned back twice under heavy fire while trying to get to the Marines in a Humvee. After helicopter pilots said the fighting on the ground was too fierce to get to the pinned down team, Meyer went in alone, uncertain whether they were alive.
He found them dead and bloody in a ditch. Their weapons and radios were missing, and they had been stripped of their body armor, according to military documents obtained by Marine Corps Times.
For the first time since that ordeal, Meyer agreed last week to discuss how he has coped with the incident, what life is like for him now and how he remembers his friends, who gave the ultimate sacrifice. He is uncomfortable with the attention, but said if he can keep the memory of his fellow Marines alive, it’s worth it.
This is Dakota Meyer’s story, shared respectfully as he chooses to tell it now. A small portion of his time with Marine Corps Times was recorded here, while he visited friends at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., last week:
It’s every Marine’s worst nightmare.
Your buddies are pinned down in a kill zone, taking fire from three sides. No help is on the way, and every time you try to assist them, you get turned back by the massive amount of firepower unleashed by the enemy.
Cpl. Dakota Meyer found himself in this very situation Sept. 8, 2009. Caught in a battle in Ganjgal, a remote village in eastern Afghanistan, he took matter into his own hands, braving a hail of enemy fire on foot to reach his buddies. Sadly, they were dead when he found them.
The battle, of course, made national news last year because troops on the ground were outraged they didn’t get the air and artillery support they needed despite pleading for it repeatedly. This week’s Marine Corps Times takes it a step farther, focusing on the bravery of Meyer and his fellow Marines, relying on dozens of jarring, first-person accounts provided by troops on the ground to Combined Joint Task Force 82, which investigated the attack after the fact. Meyer’s is among the most painful to process.
I wrote the cover story after poring through hundreds of pages of documents compiled as part of the investigation. The military has repeatedly refused to cough up the entire report, but I obtained a 300-plus page copy — already declassified, meaning it could have been released – after my own recent return from Afghanistan.
The story also focuses on details not published in a five-page summary report of the investigation in February, and how things turned so sideways on the battlefield.
An example: The three Army officers previously recommended for reprimand due to their negligence that day were with Task Force Chosin, which was based at Forward Operating Base Joyce in Kunar province and spearheaded by 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y. The unit’s identity was redacted by the military in the summary.