THE RELUCTANT HERO

Veteran: Dakota Meyer
Artist: Michael Koulermos
Writer: Marshall Karp

When Dakota Meyer got a message at work that the President of the United States was calling to tell him he was being awarded The Medal of Honor, his response was, “Tell him to call back during my lunch break.”

Sergeant Meyer, a self-described hardheaded, stubborn-as-a-mule Marine, dodged the call because he  didn’t really think of himself as a hero.

He was a 21-year-old corporal on September 8, 2009 when a patrol of 13 American troops and 80 Afghan National Police entered the mountain village of Ganjgal in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. They thought they were on a peace mission to talk with village elders, but it was a setup. They were ambushed and boxed in by as many as 150 Taliban insurgents.

Four Americans, Meyer’s friends, were immediately cut off from the rest of the unit. Taking cover in a trench, they radioed for help, screaming, “They’re moving in on us. If you don’t give us air support, we are going to die out here!”

But there was no air support and U.S. commanders, determined to avoid civilian casualties, refused to unleash artillery rounds, even after being told that no villagers were in harm’s way.

Meyer, stationed on the outskirts of the battle in his Humvee gun-truck, requested permission to go in after his fellow Marines. Request denied. Four times he volunteered to race into the kill zone. Each time he was ordered to stand down.

He couldn’t. Not with the lives of four of his brothers at stake. Orders be damned. With a fellow Marine driving, he charged the ambushers. During a six hour firefight, he single-handedly killed eight Taliban, evacuated twelve friendly wounded and provided cover for another 24 Marines and soldiers to escape certain death.

His lone vehicle drew machine gun, mortar, rocket grenade and small arms fire, and when his gun-truck was too damaged to go on, he found another and sped back four separate times. Despite being wounded and under heavy fire he went back one final time and made a house-to-house search until he found his four missing team members. But he was too late. They were dead.

He felt he’d failed. His Commander-in-Chief disagreed. 

Eventually, Meyer took the  President’s phone call, and on September 15, 2011 the reluctant hero became the second youngest Medal of Honor recipient and the first living Marine in 38 years to be so honored.