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White House defends Medal of Honor story despite skeptical report

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama awards Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor at the White House on Sept 15, 2011.

The White House on Thursday stood by the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Dakota Meyer despite a published report accusing the Marine Corps of embellishing details of Meyer’s heroics in recommending him for the military’s highest honor.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the narrative President Barack Obama read into the public record while awarding the medal to Meyer on Sept. 15 was based on documents provided by the Marine Corps that received “quite extensive” review, The Washington Post reported.

Meyer, the first living Marine since Vietnam to receive the Medal of Honor, declined to comment on the controversy, according to CBS TV station WLKY of Louisville, Ky. Meyer grew up in Adair County, Ky., and attended high school in Green County.

Obama had praised Meyer for defying orders and rushing into the heart of an ambush to retrieve fallen comrades, save 13 fellow Americans, kill eight Taliban insurgents and leave his gun turret to rescue two dozen Afghans.

Obama’s account of Meyer’s actions were based on “sworn testimony from Sgt. Meyer himself and eyewitness testimony from others present on the scene,” Carney told the Post.

“White House staff also personally spoke to Sgt. Meyer,” Carney added. “Our primary source for the president’s remarks was the official documentation provided by the Marine Corps. The president remains very proud of Sgt. Meyer and the remarkable acts of bravery he displayed on that day.”

The Marine Corps defended the account in a statement, saying: "We firmly stand behind the Medal of Honor (MOH) process and the conclusion that this Marine rightly deserved the nation's highest military honor."

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Marine, told NBC News in a statement that he had "no doubt" Meyer was appropriately recognized “given the Marine Corps' long tradition of rigid standards and its thorough review process regarding recommendations for combat awards.”

I have no doubt that Sergeant Meyer has been appropriately recognized for his actions on September 8, 2009 in Afghanistan.  Out of respect for the obvious heroism of Sergeant Meyer, it is important that any discussion of this matter begin with this recognition."

McClatchy Newspapers alleged that key facts in the Marines’ account of Meyer's actions in battle were inaccurate, overstated or unsubstantiated.

The McClatchy report was written by Jonathan Landay, a journalist who was accompanying Meyer's unit and witnessed the 2009 battle in the Ganjgal Valley.

It was not possible for Meyer to have saved 13 US troops, the article said, because 12 Americans were ambushed in the battle, including the McClatchy reporter, and four troopers were killed, it said.

And military documents indicated that the arrival of helicopters secured the survival of the remaining personnel, not Meyer's vehicle.

There are no statements from fellow troops confirming that Meyer, who has since left the military, killed eight Taliban as claimed on the Marine Corps website, the article said.

The driver of Meyer's vehicle, Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, reported seeing Meyer kill one insurgent.

There were also no sworn statements that backed up the portrayal of Meyer leaping out of his gun turret and pulling the 24 wounded Afghans into his truck, according to the report.

Meyer's driver described nine Afghan soldiers getting into the Humvee armored vehicle by themselves while Meyer remained in the turret, it said.

The article also said there was no evidence that supported the White House and Marine Corps account that Meyer defied orders by heading toward gunfire to help his comrades.

The Marine Corps acknowledged that eyewitness accounts might differ but said that was typical in the confusion of combat and a rigorous process had been followed before the Medal of Honor was approved.

President Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Dakota Meyer on Sept. 15.


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