Commentary: Dakota Meyer's heroism didn't need embellishing

President Obama awards Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor.
President Obama awards Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

A politically popular idea among many in Congress is something called the “Stolen Valor” act -- a bill that would make it a crime for somebody to claim military honors he or she didn’t earn.

So what are we supposed to make of it when the so-called “theft” of valor turns out to be an inside job?

You might hope, after the tragic Pat Tillman fiasco, that government and military leaders had learned some painful but lasting lessons about bogus accounts of combat operations, and the heroism that brave Americans often display under the most terrifying of circumstances. Apparently not.

Dramatic accounts of Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s actions in a Sept. 8, 2009 ambush in Afghanistan’s Ganjgal Valley -- actions that won Meyer the Medal of Honor -- were embellished and even falsified, according to sworn accounts provided to McClatchy Newspapers by those involved in the action, including Meyer himself.

Contrary to details publicized by the Marine Corps and read at the award ceremony by President Obama, Meyer didn’t (among other official claims) save the lives of 13 Americans, didn’t rescue 24 Afghans, didn’t personally kill eight or more Taliban insurgents and didn’t retrieve the bodies of four fallen soldiers.

The cruelest irony is that the nation’s highest award for valor has probably been tarnished by falsehood on behalf of somebody who actually earned it. Meyer’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Kevin Williams, commended the Marine for “conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” At least seven witnesses, according to the McClatchy report, credit Meyer with repeated acts of heroism “in the face of almost certain death.”

The apparent motive for this crime against credibility is nothing loftier than politics, both military and civilian. Members of Congress, along with active and former officers, wanted more Medals of Honor awarded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A few had been awarded, most of them posthumously, but Meyer is the first living Marine to receive the honor since Vietnam.

Unnamed Marine officials conceded that parts of the narrative were rewritten sometime between July, when the president approved Meyer’s nomination, and September, when the medal was awarded. Military historian Doug Sterner told McClatchy that more than a few past Medal of Honor recipients have been credited with things they didn’t do, but the political and military pressure made something like this all the more likely.

This inexcusable and utterly unnecessary dramatization of events that were dramatic enough already insults the valor and sacrifice of every Medal of Honor recipient who has come before.

It’s too easy, and far too common, to attribute wrongdoing to nameless and faceless entities -- The Military, The Government, The Media. Human beings are responsible for this disgrace, and human beings should be held accountable.

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