Medal of Honor recipient recalls deadly ambush

After several requests for help were denied, Dakota Meyer took matters into his own hands to try and save his trapped comrades in Afghanistan

"I have never seen the like."

That is what a helicopter pilot who had watched a 21-year-old Marine stave off a Taliban ambush that threatened to overrun his unit told "60 Minutes."

The Marine was Dakota Meyer a Kentucky farm boy who just this past Thursday received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award, from President Obama at the White House. Meyer was on a mission in the Ganjgal Valley of Afghanistan, where he repeatedly ran a gauntlet of enemy fire in a desperate effort to save his fellow Marines.

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Dakota Meyer repeatedly ran into enemy fire to save fellow soldiers and was awarded the Medal of Honor, but don't call him a hero

Dakota Meyer tells correspondent David Martin his story, but there is much more to it than his almost insane bravery. This was an operation which went terribly wrong, so wrong that two Army officers were issued career-ending letters of reprimand.

It's a story as old as combat. When a warrior's leaders let him down, he has nothing to fall back on but his own courage. Dakota Meyer will tell you he was just doing his job, but when you see and hear what he did, you too may say, "I have never seen the like."

Dakota Meyer grew up shooting game on a farm in Greensburg, Kentucky and can hit a squirrel at 750 yards. But it wasn't his marksmanship that earned him the Medal of Honor. It was his astonishing courage.

"Did you think you were going to die?" Martin asked.

"I didn't think I was going to die. I knew I was," Meyer said.

"You knew you were," Martin said.

"I knew I was going to die," Meyer repeated.

The battle took place in a remote valley deep in enemy territory in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Meyer ran a gauntlet of fire not once but five times with insurgents shooting down on him from three sides.

When asked why he went in, Meyer said, "There [were] U.S. troops getting shot at and those are your brothers."

Extra: Extraordinary actions

Four Marines were trapped in the village of Ganjgal after a patrol of nine Americans - both Marines and Army soldiers - and 45 Afghan military was ambushed.

Afterwards, the Army's Center for Lessons Learned produced an animated recreation of what happened. The reenactment shows that the patrol set out for what was supposed to be a friendly meeting with village elders. Rocky terrain forced them to get out of their armored vehicles and move in on foot, toward the village.

Meyer explained to Martin what happened next. He said that, starting at daylight, Taliban forces opened fire on the patrol.

"The enemy starts, starts raining down. They had mortars, rockets, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire," Meyer said.

"They were waiting for you," Martin said.

"They were," Meyer said.

"This was an ambush," Martin said.

"Oh, it was. We were set up," Meyer said.

With an estimated 100-150 enemy fighters dug in on the high ground above them, the Marines called for artillery fire from a nearby base. The first rounds missed so First Lt. Michael Johnson, one of the four Marines trapped inside the village, radioed new coordinates of the enemy positions. But the commanders in the operations center, back at the base, refused to fire.

Extra: In the killing zone

"They denied it. The Army denied it and told him it was, it was too close the village. . . And he said, 'Too close to the village?' And the last words I heard him say was, 'If you don't give me these rounds right now I'm going to die,'" Meyer said.

"Did he get the artillery fire?" Martin asked.

"No, he didn't. The response was basically, 'Try your best,'" Meyer said.

Mary Walsh is the producer.

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