Commentary: Marine Corp brass did a disservice to Dakota Meyer

The Marine Corps has done a disservice to its most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery in combat.

At least seven participants in the battle for which Marine Dakota Meyer was cited agreed with their commander’s conclusion that he deserved the medal and had acted “in the face of almost certain death.”

Yet some parts of the story publicized by the Marine Corps, and the version read by President Barack Obama during the award ceremony, are unsubstantiated, untrue or embellished.

A McClatchy News Service investigation of the case found, for example, that Meyer didn’t save the lives of 13 Marines or rescue two dozen Afghans. And there’s no proof he “personally killed at least eight Taliban insurgents,” as the Marine Corps website put it.

What’s sad is that someone thought embellishment was needed. Meyer, then a corporal and now a sergeant, did fight to retrieve the bodies of four Marines killed in action. Despite intense enemy fire, he rescued wounded Afghan soldiers.

The mystery is why the Marine Corps, and then the White House, felt the need to burnish the account when the verified facts left no question that Meyer had acted above and beyond the call of duty and risked his life to save others.

It may have been pressure from above — from politicians and former military officers — who urged the Pentagon to award more Medals of Honor. Only 10 have been approved since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. Meyer is the first surviving Marine to receive the award since Vietnam.

The case recalls that of former NFL star Pat Tillman, who volunteered to serve after Sept. 11 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The military concocted a story, saying he died in a firefight with the enemy.

The sworn statements backing up Meyers’ official citation show that his is a story of true heroism, no embellishments needed. This looks like an instance in which the top brass simply messed things up.

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