Sgt. Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in nearly 40 years, has gotten used to the attention brought by his military honors.
Instead of setting up interviews with different media outlets after he was named an honorary Kentucky State Police trooper at KSP headquarters Monday, the 23-year-old veteran asked to field reporters’ questions en masse from a podium.
He is credited with saving the lives of 13 U.S. soldiers and 23 Afghan soldiers under heavy insurgent fire in northeastern Afghanistan’s Ganjgal valley in 2009.
Meyer, who grew up on an Adair County farm, shared a beer with President Obama before he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
He has thrown out the ceremonial first pitch of a New York Yankees game and been tabbed as grand marshal of New York City’s Veteran’s Day Parade.
He’s also been honored as a Kentucky Colonel and will receive an honorary doctorate from Lindsey Wilson College in December.
And even though he says he considers himself a failure for not saving four members of his team in the onslaught, Meyer looks at the attention he’s getting as a way to “turn the worst day of my life into something positive and make a difference for someone else.”
“I’ll stop as soon as I feel like I’m not making a difference anymore,” Meyer said, referring to local and national interviews and appearances more than a month after receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.
“… Americans, they need this, they want to hear it, they want to see what’s going on, and that’s what I am. I got a platform, and I’ve got to use it.”
Since receiving the Medal of Honor, Meyer has partnered with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation to raise $2 million for children of wounded Marines from all conflicts, according to his website.
He was named an honorary state trooper because he “demonstrated the mission and philosophy of the Kentucky State Police,” KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer said before presenting Meyer with a framed certificate.
Meyer manned a Humvee’s machine gun turret in five death-defying trips into enemy fire against the orders of his commanding officers. He and others went to rescue four team members under attack from insurgents, but they were found killed in a ditch where they’d taken cover.
Meyer and others moved the men’s bodies to be extracted, and during the search his group evacuated 12 wounded soldiers and covered 24 other soldiers while they escaped.
Wearing the Medal of Honor and other military decorations on his Marine uniform, Meyer said he did what any other service member would do if faced with the same situation.
Still, nothing could prepare Meyer for the ambush in the Ganjgal valley that day in September 2009.
Insurgents held positions in the village as well as on the surrounding mountain ridge, firing machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the American and Afghan troops.
“You train so much and you try to picture the worst-case scenarios, but when we got in there, I was so in shock because I had imagined how bad things could get and said, ‘Oh, but that’ll never happen,’” Meyer told an audience of state police personnel.
“But it was 10 times worse than that, and to have so many things go wrong to top that off, it’s just part of it.”
While many have praised Meyer for his bravery, he sees himself as “completely the opposite of a hero.”
“In my mind, if I was a hero, it’s really confusing to me because I go over and my whole team gets killed,” he said. “I don’t get any of them out alive, and I come back and now America wants to recognize me for letting my guys get killed and (me) living.
“It’s really a frustrating deal for me, but it’s bigger than me. It’s about veterans, it’s about representing the Marine Corps, it’s about representing guys who go out and do the right thing every day and try to make a difference.”
Meyer says he wants to become a firefighter or police officer so he can continue making a difference in people’s lives. He wanted to apply with the New York Fire Department in September, but he declined after a judge granted him an extension to file paperwork because no one else got the same opportunity.
Meyer called the state police the “Marine Corps” of Kentucky law enforcement.
“Maybe down the road once everything starts to slow down, I might look into doing it,” he said. “I tell you, it’d be an honor to stand among the ranks of these guys.”