President Obama on Thursday laid the pale-blue, silken ribbon of the Medal of Honor around the neck of Dakota L. Meyer, a Marine sergeant who braved a hail of enemy fire in Afghanistan to rescue trapped comrades and recover fallen ones.
"Because of your honor 36 men are alive today," Obama said during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Meyer, 23, is only the third living recipient of the medal to be awarded for actions in Afghanistan-now a decade-long war-and is the first Marine. There's been no Medal of Honor for actions committed in Iraq given to a living recipient. The last medal bestowed for actions in Iraq was awarded in June 2008 to Pvt. 1st Class Ross McGuiness, killed in an insurgent attack in Adhamiya, Baghdad, in 2006.
A day after having a beer with the president at the White House, he received the medal, the nation's highest military honor, for what he did just about two years ago to the day, on Sept. 8, 2009.
This is how it happened, according to the Marine Corps:
Meyer, along with his four-man team, part of a larger group that included Afghan National Army troops and Afghan Border Police, were near Gangjal Village, Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. At 5:30 a.m., the group, ambushed, came under heavy gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire from more than 50 insurgents in well-fortified positions in a U-shaped stretch of land-the "kill zone."
U.S. soldiers, Marines, and Afghan forces called for air and artillery support, then took and returned fire, and hunkered down for nearly two hours. Meyer requested permission to enter the kill zone four times but was denied each time. Meyer did not wait for a fifth denial.
Meyer, a corporal at the time, and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez boarded a truck with a gun mounted on it and headed into the area where enemy fire was heaviest, leaving their relatively safe position.
With insurgents firing mortars, RPGs, and small arms at them, Meyer and Rodriquez-Chavez evacuated the wounded, ferrying them through the fire to a safe position. This they did four more times.
Realizing that he and his comrade could die, Meyer was resigned to his fate.
"I guess we'll die with them," he said.
On the final trip into the zone, Meyer, cut on his arm and informed by a helicopter crew who spotted four bodies in a ditch, entered the firefight. He recovered the lifeless men, who were indeed his team members, with the help of Army Capt. William Swenson.
After six hours, Meyer had killed eight Taliban and recovered 13 U.S. service members and 23 Afghan troops.
Meyer is now in the inactive reserve; he holds the rank of sergeant.
"The heroes are the men and women still serving," he said.