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Medal of Honor: Defying orders, hero Marine saved troops

The Medal of Honor was given to a young Marine credited with saving more than a dozen lives in Afghanistan.

September 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Top military honors were given to a young Marine credited with saving more than a dozen lives on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Thursday.

Five years ago, the now 23-year-old was told there was no way he could make it as a Marine. And on Thursday he became the first living marine from the war in Afghanistan to receive the top honor our military can bestow.

Having a private beer with President Barack Obama at the White House is a far cry from Afghanistan and the dangerous Ganjal Valley. That's where Meyer and his men were stationed two years ago.

Meyer was told to stay back with the vehicles as his men walked on with Afghan soldiers. Then insurgents opened fire on the group.

"To describe it, it's probably the worst day of my life," said Meyer.

Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez Chavez defied orders and drove their Humvees towards the narrow village.

"I wasn't really thinking I could die, it was just a matter of when," said Meyer. "I never thought I was going to come out."

For six hours he made multiple trips. Under constant gunfire, he rescued 36 soldiers. But it was too late for four of his closest friends

"I just sat down between gunner [Aaron] Kenefick and Lt. [Michael] Johnson and sat there and shook my head," said Meyer. "I feel like I failed them, I failed their families. I guess what's stuck in my mind is you either get guys out alive or you die trying. If you don't die trying, you didn't try hard enough."

"You've said your efforts were somehow a failure because your teammates didn't come home," said Obama. "But as your commander in chief and on behalf of all Americans, I want you to know it's quite the opposite."

Obama awarded Meyer the country's highest military honor to a Marine who doesn't believe he deserves it.

"Because of your honor, 36 men are alive today," said Obama. "Because of your courage four fallen American heroes came home."

Meyer says he'll always carry those four with him.

"If I can't look down, I don't have a reason to push on," said Meyer. "I've got four reasons on my wrist, and that's why I keep their names on my wrist."

Meyer insists he's not a hero, and that any Marine would do the same thing.

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