Sgt. Dakota Meyer has been awarded a Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration, for his selfless and heroic actions on a September morning two years ago. Defying orders, Meyer drove into a firestorm unleashed by Taliban insurgents and saved 36 men – leaving not a single soldier behind.
Over 120 families and friends gathered at the White House Thursday, along with various government leaders, to witness President Barack Obama present Meyer, the first living Marine to receive the honor, with the medal for his actions Afghanistan.
The ceremony marked, Obama said, only the third time that someone who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan had survived to accept the Medal of Honor.
"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," said President Obama.
According to Obama, Meyer is a "very" modest man who accepted the medal only because it allowed the story of those who never made it home to be retold.
Meyer's actions serves as reminder to Americans that "our men and women in uniform are over there fighting every single day," Obama said.
"In Sgt. Dakota Meyer, we see the best of a generation that has served with distinction through a decade of war," stated the president.
President Obama recounted the 23-year-old marine's story for those gathered at the ceremony.
"Imagine it's Sept. 8, 2009, just before dawn. A patrol of Afghan forces and their American trainers is on foot, heading into a village to meet with elders. And that's when it happens," Obama said.
He continued, "It was as if the whole valley was exploding. 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."
Meyer, who was a corporal at the time, and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez were about a mile away and heard the ambush over the radio. They were denied permission to "go in" because it was considered "too dangerous."
Upon hearing the fourth "no," Meyer told Chavez they were going in. Chavez drove the Humvee and Meyer manned the gun, charging straight into the killing zone, during an ambush in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
President Obama stated that Meyer jumped out and loaded wounded Afghan soldiers into the Humvee. Five times they went back - escaping the shower of bullets. Meyer was wounded in the arm.
On their last trip, the relentless duo discovered four trapped American soldiers.
"He kept going until he came upon those four Americans, lying where they fell, together as one team," said Obama.
Meyer picked up his fallen comrades and "through all those bullets, all the smoke, all the chaos - carried them out, one by one."
"That's what you do for a brother," declared Meyer.
He later confessed, "I didn't think I was going to die. I knew I was."
Meyer accepted the medal in the name of his fallen brothers: Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Hospitalman Third Class James Layton, and Sgt. 1st 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," said President Obama, before presenting Meyer with the medal in the gilded East Room of the White House.
In 2010, Meyer finished his active-duty commitments and is currently serving as a sergeant in the Inactive Ready Reserve of the Marine Corps. He is the third service member to earn the award and the first living Marine to be presented the medal since 1973.
Here is a video of Meyer being awarded his Medal of Honor: