According to virtually unanimous press and eyewitness reports, Dakota Meyer -- while a Marine corporal in Afghanistan -- performed above and beyond the call of duty in the face of certain death in trying to save his Afghan comrades and recover the bodies of fellow Americans during an ambush in 2009.
But a McClatchy Newspapers report published Wednesday calls into question the details of the story, which led to a Medal of Honor this year. The story by reporter Jonathan S. Landay describes the official Marine Corps account of Meyer's actions as being full of "untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated" details about what really happened.
The official account of Meyer's actions are more or less as follows: Wounded and facing heavy Taliban fire in a remote Afghanistan battle zone in September of 2009, he disobeyed orders and charged into a kill zone in an attempt to get his comrades out. Meyer killed at least eight attackers despite suffering a shrapnel wound as he fired from a gun turret. He was also determined to have recovered the bodies of four other Americans who had been killed in the ambush. Meyer was credited with saving the lives of 13 Americans and 23 or 24 Afghan troops.
Dakota Meyer on "60 Minutes"
This story, according to Landay -- who was present for the battle while embedded with the Marines -- is full of inaccuracies, which call into question the vetting process for Medal of Honor recipients. The narrative was put forward by the Marine Corps' own Division of Public Affairs and published on the Marine Corps website.
The U.S. military has been criticized in the past for fabricated or embellished accounts of episodes such as the rescue of POW Jessica Lynch in Iraq in 2003 and the death of Pat Tillman, a former NFL player awarded numerous posthumous honors for valor, who was in fact killed by "friendly fire" in an embarrassing episode for the military.
Landay writes: "Sworn statements by Meyer and others who participated in the battle indicate that he didn't save the lives of 13 U.S. service members, leave his vehicle to scoop up 24 Afghans on his first two rescue runs or lead the final push to retrieve the four dead Americans. Moreover, it's unclear from the documents whether Meyer disobeyed orders when he entered the Ganjgal Valley on Sept. 8, 2009. The statements also offer no proof that the 23-year-old Kentucky native 'personally killed at least eight Taliban insurgents,' as the account on the Marine Corps website says. The driver of Meyer's vehicle attested to seeing 'a single enemy go down.'"
Landay reports that lawmakers had been pushing the military for more Medal of Honor recipients from Iraq or Afghanistan, as only nine had been awarded prior to Meyer. Additionally, Meyer's story passed through several hands and had a few rewrites on its way to becoming the official account read by President Obama in the White House.
Having inaccuracies in their stories is nothing new to Medal of Honor recipients, Doug Sterner, a prominent historian of military medals, told Landay. Sterner also said that the mounting pressure to find a living recipient has made mistakes in details almost inevitable.
Landay writes that he was embedded with the troops that Meyer rushed into save when they were ambushed in 2009, and that beyond the numerous official documents and testimonies he poured over, his own recollection of the event doesn't coincide with the official retelling.
Meyer's comrades, The Marine Corps and the White House have all come out to publicly defend Meyer and the merit of his story of heroism since Landay began reporting the story. For his part, Meyer has declined comment.