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Obama awards Medal of Honor to Kentucky Marine

Obama says Dakota Meyer represents 'the best of a generation' serving since 9/11.

September 15, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and Michael Muskal
  • President Obama awards Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
President Obama awards Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor in the East Room of… (WhiteHouse.gov )

On Wednesday, they shared a beer. On Thursday, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Dakota Meyer, credited with saving three dozen lives during operations in Afghanistan in 2009.

Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama said that it was fitting that the solemn ceremony came just after the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led to the war in Afghanistan.

Meyer, Obama said, represents "the best of a generation that has served with distinction through a decade of war."

"You did your duty above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps you love," Obama said.

He also called him "one of the most down-to-earth guys that you will ever meet." When White House staff attempted to reach Meyer to arrange for the president to inform him of the honor, they were told he needed to wait for his lunch break.

"I do appreciate, Dakota, you taking my call," Obama joked.

This week, in a call to arrange final details of Thursday's ceremony, Meyer asked whether he could share a beer with his commander in chief. They did so outside the Oval Office on Wednesday.

Meyer is the third living recipient, and first Marine, to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Born in Columbia, Ky., on June 26, 1988, Meyer attended public schools and graduated from Green County High School. In 2006, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and did his basic training at Parris Island Recruit Training Depot, the White House said.

In 2010, he completed his active-duty commitment and currently serves in the Inactive Ready Reserve of the Marine Corps as a sergeant. He is a Marine infantryman and scout sniper.

At the time of his deployment to combat duty in Afghanistan, he was serving as a turret gunner and driver. According to the military, on Sept. 8, 2009, Meyer was in the Ganjgal Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar province when his unit was attacked by 50 enemy combatants. Meyer charged through enemy fire five times in an armored Humvee to save 13 Marines and Army soldiers and 23 Afghan troops who were pinned down.

Meyer is credited with killing at least eight attackers despite being wounded in his arm by shrapnel.

On the day of the attack, Meyer, then a corporal, was part of a security team, Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command 3-7. When a forward team took fire, he asked to be allowed to move forward and he was repeatedly denied.

Finally, he and another Marine, Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, jumped into the Humvee and moved out. Rodriguez-Chavez, 34, originally from Acuna, Mexico, was awarded the Navy Cross.

Meyer also recovered the bodies of four friends killed in action.

"Because of your honor, 36 men are alive today. Because of your courage, four fallen American heroes came home," Obama said after describing the heroic circumstances of his award.

Only 10 Medals of Honor have been issued in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- seven posthumously -- compared with 248 in Vietnam, 136 in Korea and 465 during World War II. About 3,400 have been granted since the Civil War.

The other living Medal of Honor recipients from the current wars are Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who rushed into enemy fire and pulled three wounded soldiers to safety in Afghanistan in 2007, and Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who lost his hand throwing an enemy grenade away from two fellow soldiers during a fight with insurgents in Afghanistan's Paktia province in May 2008.

Petry returned to the White House for Thursday's ceremony, just two months after his own.

Meyer is the second Marine to earn the Medal of Honor from the current wars. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham received the award posthumously for his actions in Iraq.

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