Youngest living Medal of Honor recipient speaks at MU

Thursday, November 7, 2013 | 10:56 p.m. CST; updated 6:56 a.m. CST, Friday, November 8, 2013
Sgt. Dakota Meyer recalls his decision to join the Marines after a high school recruiter told him he'd never make it. "I never turn down a challenge," he said at Jesse Auditorium on Thursday night. Meyer is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient.

COLUMBIA — Sgt. Dakota Meyer has a history of defying authority.

When he was 17, a Marine recruiter told Meyer there was no way he would make it as a marine. Meyer enlisted at a recruiting station near his home in Columbia, Ky., the same day in 2006.

Five years later, in a ceremony on Sept. 15, 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Meyer the Medal of Honor for his bravery in Afghanistan.

He told his story to a nearly full Jesse Auditorium on Thursday in celebration of MU's Veterans Week, a series of events leading up to Veterans Day.

Defying authority

Meyer was part of a group of selected servicemen chosen for certain missions in Afghanistan. On Sept. 8, 2009, the group ran a mission without Meyer for the first time. He maintained security at a patrol rally point while other team members moved into a village in Afghanistan for a meeting with village elders, he described Thursday.

Meyer could hear the ambush over the radio. Three Marines and a Navy corpsman were missing.

He requested to go in to help them. He was denied. He requested again. Again. Again. Each time, he was denied and was told the ambush was too close to the village and was too dangerous.

Finally, Meyer decided to ignore the orders. While another Marine drove, he traveled down steep terrain into enemy fire. They loaded wounded Afghan soldiers into the Humvee as they went.

"If I was wrong, I was going to answer for it," Meyer said Thursday.

One of the service members, whom he referred to as "Gunny J," began to read the team's coordinates over the radio as Meyer listened. After the first four numbers, he stopped reading the numbers.

Later, Meyer found Gunny J's body face down with his GPS still in his hand. The other three service members lay dead beside him.

"When I got to them, I knew immediately that they were gone," Meyer said.

He carried each of his teammates out one by one. Even though he lost his fellow service members that day, Meyer helped to evacuate 12 friendly wounded and provided cover for 24 marines and other service members to escape.

Meyer is the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient and the first living Marine to be honored in 38 years.

The weight of a medal

Meyer didn't wear his medal Thursday. He doesn't feel like an American hero, he said.

When he was told the president would be calling to offer him the medal, Meyer didn't want it. He wouldn't even stay home from work to take the phone call that day.

"If I'm such a hero, why won't you tell my teammates that?" Meyer said.

Meyer finally decided to accept the medal under the condition that a ceremony would be held at each of his fallen brothers' grave sites in addition to his own.

"It took me realizing that it's not about how I feel," he said. "It's the opportunity to serve them and their families."

Meyer said his life changed after the ceremony in 2011. He had to build a fence around his home to protect himself from photographers and reporters. He has been spit on, held at knifepoint and woken up to staples in his head in a hospital, Meyer said.

"The impact that medal brings — you can have mine," he said. "Do not envy me. It's a great honor to have, but to be honest with you, I'm not that type."

Now, Meyer tours the country to educate civilians and veterans on veterans issues and inspire them to seek greatness. He calls this chapter of his life "meeting America."

He said he hopes Americans will stick together and hold one another accountable.

"What makes the greatest country on Earth great?" Meyer said. "It's believing it."

MU's Veterans Week began Monday. Programming to recognize and support veterans will continue through Veterans Day on Monday.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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