- Published: Tuesday, 21 August 2012 14:13
- Written by Dan Lamothe
21 August 2012
By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted: Monday Aug 20, 2012 14:53:32 EDT
WEST MILFORD, N.J. — During one of the Afghan war’s ugliest battles, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer was nearly taken prisoner at gunpoint but fended off his would-be captor by beating him to death with a baseball-sized rock, according to the Marine’s forthcoming book.
That is among several revelations in “Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.” It chronicles the disastrous Sept. 8, 2009, battle in Ganjgal, a mountainside village in Kunar province where U.S. Marines and soldiers, and their Afghan counterparts, were pinned down under fire for hours. The book, due to be released Sept. 25, is co-authored by Meyer and Bing West, a best-selling writer and former Marine infantryman.
Throughout the book, Meyer, a sergeant in the Marine Corps Individual Ready Reserve, takes aim at several targets — especially the Army officers he blames for allowing members of his team to die that day. He describes perceived flaws in the mission’s planning, outlines how officers at a nearby base refused to send help and questions why an Army captain who fought alongside him, Will Swenson, still hasn’t received any valor award despite being recommended for the Medal of Honor nearly three years ago.
Marine Corps Times obtained an advance copy of the book and met with Meyer on Aug. 7 here in New Jersey, where he was visiting friends. In a wide-ranging interview, he discussed its contents, his memories and what it’s like living in the public eye as a Medal of Honor recipient.
Foremost, “it’s a matter of capturing what happened,” Meyer said of the details included in the book. “It’s all about being held accountable for your actions in life.”
Last September, Meyer, 24, became the first living Marine in 38 years to receive the nation’s highest award for combat valor. He is credited with braving enemy fire multiple times on foot and in the gun turret of several vehicles during a frantic effort to recover four missing members of his embedded training team. He eventually found them shot to death in a hillside trench and worked alongside Swenson and other troops to remove them from the valley where they were killed.
As the battle in Ganjgal boiled over, Army officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce refused to send artillery support despite repeated pleas from those in the maelstrom. At least two officers received letters of reprimand as a result, Army officials have said.
Meyer writes in the book that, as he attended to a dead Afghan soldier, Dodd Ali, he was approached by an insurgent wielding an AK-47. Meyer fired the 40mm grenade launcher attached to his M4 carbine, the round striking the fighter in the body armor at close range — without exploding, he wrote. They began wrestling, and Meyer hit the man with a rock, breaking his front teeth with one of the blows, the book says.
“We both knew it was over,” Meyer wrote. “I drew back my arm and drove the stone down, crushing his left cheekbone. He went limp. I pushed up on my knees and hit him with more force. The blow caved in the left side of his forehead. I smashed his face again and again, driven by pure primal rage.”
The incident was not described in the witness statement Meyer submitted for the subsequent investigation of the battle, his Medal of Honor citation or in the media interviews he did last year. However, the hand-to-hand combat has weighed on Meyer, he said.
“You know, what makes it so hard when I write that is you have people who question the story, of course, and that’s a part that they’re questioning,” Meyer said. “You know, I called Will Swenson, [who] was with me, and said, ‘Will, do you remember this?’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t really remember it.’ I said, ‘Well, can you tell me it didn’t happen?’ And he said, ‘I can’t.’ So I’m, like, trying to figure out where it fits in at.”
What about Swenson?
The book’s release will be close to the third anniversary of the battle and the first anniversary of Meyer getting the Medal of Honor. Meyer unequivocally backs the captain’s case for the Medal of Honor in the book — and questions why the award hasn’t already been approved.
Swenson — then a member of 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan. — was deployed to oversee the training of Afghan border police. A Ranger School graduate with deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, he had participated in the planning of the mission and was assured fire support would be available if needed.
Interviewed for the investigation afterward, Swenson unloaded on the rules of engagement used in Afghanistan, the leadership of officers who didn’t send help and the second-guessing he experienced while requesting fire support, according to a copy of his witness statement.