Published September 15, 2011
COLUMBIA, Ky. – Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer consented to press interviews so people would know the story of the teammates who didn't survive the ambush in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
The men Meyer wants the world to remember are Lt. Michael Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Gunnery Sgt Edwin Johnson and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton.
At his request, they will be memorialized at hometown ceremonies while he is awarded the nation's highest honor for bravery during a White House ceremony Thursday with President Obama..
"Those guys gave their lives so you have to remind (the public) everyday. You know, that's the least you can do,” said Meyer, who killed eight Taliban fighters, some at close range.
But Meyer, who spoke with reporters recently at his grandfather Dwight Meyer's farm, does not particularly care for the limelight, Lt.. Col. Chris Hughes, who coordinated media requests, warned all of the reporters coming and going from the interviews.
"If you ask a stupid question, Dakota will let you know," Hughes said. He also told Fox News that Meyer does not like revisiting that ambush that earned him the medal.
"If you just jump right in, you're going to get a push back," Hughes said.
At the farm, Meyer stepped down from a large black Ford F-150 wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt that looked like it had been pulled from the top of the laundry pile. Either he was trying to present a hometown, regular-guy look, or he just didn't care about doing a television interview. It soon became clear he didn't care, he would prefer all the reporters leave him alone.
Nonetheless, the story was to be recounted many times. It was just before dawn in Northeastern Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2009. A team of U.S. Army and Marine trainers were accompanying a battalion of Afghan soldiers into Ganjgal. The mountains erupted in a hail of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. Skilled and equipped Taliban fighters had formed a U-shaped ambush around both the U.S. and Afghan troops.
Meyer, a corporal at the time, was toward the rear in a Humvee equipped with a Mark-19 grenade launcher. Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez was driving. They radioed a request for air support. When the air support didn't come, they requested permission to join the fight. The request was denied -- diving into an ambush seemed like suicide.
"We knew what we had to do. So we just decided we were going to go in there on our own," Meyer said. "We were either going to go in there or we are going to die trying ... that's your brothers in there."
They drove into the center of the ambush rescuing Afghan troops and providing cover so U.S. forces could escape. The record shows that dozens of people, U.S. and Afghan, now owe their lives to the actions of Meyer and Chavez.
They returned to the valley five times looking for members of Meyer's team. Their truck was damaged so they swapped it for one with a more effective 50-caliber machine gun mounted on top.
When Meyer and Chavez finally found their comrades, they had all been killed.
"That's the worst feeling ever. You know, I went over to bring those guys out alive. That was my mission and I didn't bring them out alive. So, I failed," Meyer said.
At home, Meyer walks unnoticed into the local coffee shop and he makes no effort to draw attention. No one here would have forecast him to one day receive the Medal of Honor. By his own admission he was not a model student.
"I always spoke my mind. I didn’t go with the flow," Meyer said.
But the people who knew him, like his mentor and football coach Mike Griffiths, are not surprised that he made a difficult decision that went against the military convention of following orders.
"Dakota was always a lone ranger. Always a guy on his own," said Griffiths.
On the rolling hills of his farm, Meyer's grandfather, a retired Marine, beams with pride over the decisions and actions his grandson took on that day.
"He knew it was going to be tough." Dwight Meyer said. "I can't say how proud we are, both my wife and I both how proud we are with Dakota."
Dwight Meyer won't hesitate to throw out the word "hero" when describing his grandson.
Chavez was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions, and is also called a hero. But as he prepared to have the Medal of Honor placed around his neck by the president, Meyer said for him, the word would only apply if his buddies would have made it out of that valley.
"I'm definitely not a hero. That is the farthest thing from the truth."