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Medal of Honor for Sergeant Dakota L. Meyer

Medal of Honor for Sergeant Dakota L. Meyer


Chaplain Kibben:
If you would,
please pray with me. Almighty God, we pause
to acknowledge Your grace, which has brought us
to this momentous day. We confirm by this ceremony that
in accordance with Your divine guidance, our forbearers
established a nation rooted in the ideals of
courage and virtue. We now yield to Your direction
for this country even as we bestow its highest honors
on Sergeant Dakota Meyer, who himself sacrificed to defend
its most cherished values. God, hear our gratitude for
Your honing Sergeant Meyer’s character through the loving
support of his family, as well as countless
mentors and friends. Know of our thankfulness for
emboldening this Marine’s spirit, so that when called
on to preserve the safety and dignity of his comrades, he was
able to find it within himself to demonstrate the valor and
intrepidity of his character. God, for his selflessness and
courage revealed that day in Kunar province, this nation
is indeed exceedingly grateful. We ask now that You would
touch his humble spirit; that he would know that as the
nation’s highest award is draped around his neck, You encircle
him with the depth of Your love, acknowledging not only him, but
those Marines and sailors who were so much a part of his
actions on that fateful day. Speak to him in the privacy of
his heart and assure him that as his actions are honored, You
equally recognize those who demonstrated their willingness
to sacrifice everything in order to uphold the ideals
we honor this day. With that in mind, we pray Your
abiding grace on the families and friends of the Marines,
sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who have
given their lives in service to this country. And we lift up in prayer all
those who remain in harm’s way throughout the globe. Now bestow Your wisdom on those
who lead this nation and shape her endeavors. Guide them and each of us by the
example of these, our heroes, who loved country more than
self; mercy more than life. God, bless America. In Your holy name we pray. Amen. The President:
Thank you, everybody. Please be seated. Thank you, Chaplain Kibben. Good afternoon, everyone. And on behalf of
Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. It’s been said that “where
there is a brave man, in the thickest of the fight,
there is the post of honor.” Today, we pay tribute to an
American who placed himself in the thick of the fight —
again and again and again. In so doing, he has earned
our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. And we are extraordinarily
proud of Sergeant Dakota Meyer. Today is only the third time
during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that a recipient of the
Medal of Honor has been able to accept it in person. And we are honored to be
joined by one of the two other recipients — Sergeant First
Class Leroy Petry, who is here. I would point out
something else — of all the Medal of Honor
recipients in recent decades, Dakota is also one
of the youngest. He’s 23 years old. And he performed the
extraordinary actions for which he is being recognized today
when he was just 21 years old. Despite all this, I have to
say Dakota is one of the most down-to-Earth guys that
you will ever meet. In fact, when my staff first
tried to arrange the phone call so I could tell him that
I’d approved this medal, Dakota was at work, at
his new civilian job, on a construction site. He felt he couldn’t take
the call right then, because he said, “If I don’t
work, I don’t get paid.” (laughter) So we arranged to make
sure he got the call during his lunch break. (laughter) I told him the news, and then
he went right back to work. (laughter) That’s the kind of guy he is. He also asked to
have a beer with me, which we were able
to execute yesterday. Dakota is the kind of guy
who gets the job done. And I do appreciate,
Dakota, you taking my call. (laughter) The Medal of Honor reflects the
gratitude of the entire nation. So we’re joined here
by members of Congress, including somebody
from your home state, the Republican leader of the
Senate, Mitch McConnell. We are joined here by leaders
from across my administration, including Secretary of Veterans
Affairs Eric Shinseki and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and leaders
from across our Armed Forces, including the Commandant of the
Marine Corps General James Amos. We’re honored to welcome
Dakota’s father, Mike, who’s here; his
extraordinary grandparents; and more than 120 of
Dakota’s family and friends, many from his home
state of Kentucky. I want to welcome Dakota’s
comrades from the Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, and
we are humbled by the presence of the members of the
Medal of Honor Society. Dakota, I realize the past two
years have not been easy for you, retelling the story of that
day and standing here today. You’re a very modest young man. But, as you’ve said, you do
it for a simple reason — retelling the story — because
it helps you to honor those who didn’t come home, and to remind
your fellow Americans that our men and women in uniform are
over there fighting every single day. So that’s how we’ll
do this today. It’s fitting that
we do so this week, having just marked the 10th
anniversary of the attacks that took our nation to war. Because in Sergeant
Dakota Meyer, we see the best of a generation
that has served with distinction through a decade of war. Let me tell the story. I want you to imagine
it’s September 8, 2009, just before dawn. A patrol of Afghan forces and
their American trainers is on foot, making their way
up a narrow valley, heading into a village
to meet with elders. And suddenly, all over the
village, the lights go out. And that’s when it happens. About a mile away, Dakota,
who was then a corporal, and Staff Sergeant
Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, could hear the ambush
over the radio. It was as if the whole
valley was exploding. Taliban fighters were unleashing
a firestorm from the hills, from the stone houses,
even from the local school. And soon, the patrol
was pinned down, taking ferocious fire
from three sides. Men were being wounded and
killed, and four Americans — Dakota’s friends
— were surrounded. Four times, Dakota and Juan
asked permission to go in; four times they were denied. It was, they were
told, too dangerous. But one of the teachers in
his high school once said, “When you tell Dakota
he can’t do something, he’s is going to do it.” (laughter) And as Dakota said of
his trapped teammates, “Those were my brothers,
and I couldn’t just sit back and watch.” The story of what Dakota
did next will be told for generations. He told Juan they were going in. Juan jumped into a Humvee
and took the wheel; Dakota climbed into the
turret and manned the gun. They were defying orders, but
they were doing what they thought was right. So they drove straight
into a killing zone, Dakota’s upper body and head
exposed to a blizzard of fire from AK-47s and machine
guns, from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Coming upon wounded
Afghan soldiers, Dakota jumped out and loaded
each of the wounded into the Humvee, each time exposing
himself to all that enemy fire. They turned around and drove
those wounded back to safety. Those who were there called it
the most intense combat they’d ever seen. Dakota and Juan would have been
forgiven for not going back in. But as Dakota says, you
don’t leave anybody behind. For a second time, they went
back — back into the inferno; Juan at the wheel, swerving to
avoid the explosions all around them; Dakota up in the turret
— when one gun jammed, grabbing another, going
through gun after gun. Again they came across
wounded Afghans. Again Dakota jumped out, loaded
them up and brought them back to safety. For a third time,
they went back — insurgents running
right up to the Humvee, Dakota fighting them off. Up ahead, a group of
Americans, some wounded, were desperately trying to
escape the bullets raining down. Juan wedged the Humvee right
into the line of fire, using the vehicle as a shield. With Dakota on the guns, they
helped those Americans back to safety as well. For a fourth time,
they went back. Dakota was now
wounded in the arm. Their vehicle was riddled
with bullets and shrapnel. Dakota later confessed, “I
didn’t think I was going to die. I knew I was.” But still they pushed
on, finding the wounded, delivering them to safety. And then, for a fifth
time, they went back — into the fury of that village,
under fire that seemed to come from every window, every
doorway, every alley. And when they finally got
to those trapped Americans, Dakota jumped out. And he ran toward them. Drawing all those
enemy guns on himself. Bullets kicking up the
dirt all around him. He kept going until he came
upon those four Americans, laying where they fell,
together as one team. Dakota and the others who
had joined him knelt down, picked up their comrades and
— through all those bullets, all the smoke, all the chaos —
carried them out, one by one. Because, as Dakota says, “That’s
what you do for a brother.” Dakota says he’ll accept
this medal in their name. So today, we remember the
husband who loved the outdoors — Lieutenant Michael Johnson. The husband and father
they called “Gunny J” — Gunnery Sergeant Edwin Johnson. The determined Marine who
fought to get on that team — Staff Sergeant Aaron Kenefick. The medic who gave his life
tending to his teammates — Hospitalman Third
Class James Layton. And a soldier wounded in that
battle who never recovered — Sergeant First Class
Kenneth Westbrook. Dakota, I know that you’ve
grappled with the grief of that day; that you’ve said your
efforts were somehow a “failure” because your teammates
didn’t come home. But as your Commander-in-Chief,
and on behalf of everyone here today and all Americans, I
want you to know it’s quite the opposite. You did your duty,
above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the
highest traditions of the Marine Corps that you love. Because of your Honor,
36 men are alive today. Because of your Courage, four
fallen American heroes came home, and — in the words
of James Layton’s mom — they could lay their sons
to rest with dignity. Because of your Commitment
— in the thick of the fight, hour after hour — a former
Marine who read about your story said that you showed how
“in the most desperate, final hours…our brothers
and God will not forsake us.” And because of your humble
example, our kids — especially back in
Columbia, Kentucky, and in small towns
all across America — they’ll know that no matter who
you are or where you come from, you can do great things as a
citizen and as a member of the American family. Therein lies the greatest lesson
of that day in the valley, and the truth that our men
and women in uniform live out every day. “I was part of something
bigger,” Dakota has said, part of a team “that
worked together, lifting each other up and
working toward a common goal. Every member of our team was
as important as the other.” So in keeping with Dakota’s
wishes for this day, I want to conclude by
asking now-Gunnery Sergeant Rodriguez-Chavez and all those
who served with Dakota — the Marines, Army, Navy — to
stand and accept thanks of a grateful nation. (applause) Every member of our team is
as important as the other. That’s a lesson that we
all have to remember — as citizens, and as a nation
— as we meet the tests of our time, here at home
and around the world. To our Marines, to all our
men and women in uniform, to our fellow Americans,
let us always be faithful. And as we prepare for the
reading of the citation, let me say, God
bless you, Dakota. God bless our Marines
and all who serve. And God bless the United
States of America. Semper Fi. (applause) Military Aide:
The President of
the United States, in the name of the Congress,
takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
Corporal Dakota L. Meyer, United States Marine Corps,
for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his
life above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with
Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps
Advisory Command 3-7, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan,
on 8 September 2009. Corporal Meyer maintained
security at a patrol rally point, while other members of
his team moved on foot with two platoons of Afghan National
Army and border police into the village of Ganjgal for
a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Moving into the village, the
patrol was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters firing
rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, machine guns from
four to five positions on the slopes above. Hearing over the radio that four
U.S. team members were cut off, Corporal Meyer
seized the initiative. With a fellow Marine driving,
Corporal Meyer took the exposed gunner’s position in a gun truck
as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring
attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the
trapped U.S. team. Disregarding intense enemy fire
now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Corporal Meyer killed
a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine
guns and his rifle — some at near
point-blank range — as he and his driver made three
solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he
and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers,
many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became
inoperable he directed the return to the rally point to
switch to another gun truck for a third trip into
the ambush area, where his accurate fire directly
supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers
fighting their way out of the ambush. Despite a shrapnel
wound to his arm, Corporal Meyer made two more
trips into the ambush area in a third gun truck, accompanied
by four other Afghan vehicles, to recover more wounded Afghan
soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he
dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to
locate and recover the bodies of his team members. Corporal Meyer’s daring
initiative and bold fighting spirit throughout the six-hour
battle significantly disrupted the enemy’s attack and inspired
the members of the command force to fight on. His unwavering courage and
steadfast devotion to his U.S. and Afghan comrades, in the
face of almost certain death, reflect a great credit upon
himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine
Corps and the United States Naval Service. (applause) Chaplain Kibben:
Let us close in prayer: God,
may this ceremony serve as a reminder of the responsibility
that comes with receiving the grace gift of freedom. And as we depart this hallowed
hall and return to our daily lives, we pray that You
would ennoble and enable us, that when called up we would
recall the resolute fearlessness of Sergeant Dakota Meyer and
all those who wear the stars of valor, and live up to our
responsibilities to bring honor to You and to this country. It is in Your Holy name we pray. Amen. The President:
Thank you all for
joining us here today. We are grateful for Dakota. We are grateful for all our
men and women in uniform. And I hope that all of you have
not only been inspired by this ceremony, but also will
enjoy the hospitality of the White House. I hear the food is pretty good. (laughter) Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (applause)


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