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Report: 'Marines Promoted Inflated Story For Medal Of Honor Recipient'

President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer.
Jim Watson
AFP/Getty Images
President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer.

"Crucial parts" of the story that Marine Corps officials told about Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer's bravery in Afghanistan are "untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated, according to dozens of military documents" that McClatchy Newspapers has examined and reporting done by a McClatchy correspondent who survived the ambush in which Meyer performed heroically.

In a long report based on extensive research, correspondent Jonathan S. Landay writes that:

"Meyer, the 296th Marine to earn the medal, by all accounts deserved his nomination. At least seven witnesses attested to him performing heroic deeds "in the face of almost certain death."

But, Landay reports, among the facts that Marine Corps officials embellished in some accounts was the claim that Meyer's repeated trips to evacuate comrades who were under fire during a 2009 ambush in Afghanistan saved the lives of 13 Americans. In fact, "12 Americans were ambushed," including Landay, and "of those, four were killed."

Landay also reports that it's not clear, as the Marine Corps had said, that Meyer and another Marine disobeyed orders to mount their rescue attempts. And evidence is lacking that Meyer killed at least eight Taliban insurgents.

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest award for valor. Marine Corps officials tell McClatchy that while the official citation about Meyer's award was formally vetted, some of the other materials produced by the Marines were based on "Meyer's narrative of the sequence of events" and were not vetted.

Just before McClatchy's story was published last night, the Marine Corps added a disclaimer to the top of its webpage about him. "The 'Heroic Actions' summary was compiled in collaboration with Sgt. Dakota Meyer's personal account and HQMC Division of Public Affairs," it reads.

McClatchy says that "reached by telephone Wednesday, Meyer declined to comment."

Meyer has also been in the news in recent days because he is suing a defense contractor he worked with because, as All Things Considered reported, he alleges the firm "blocked him from another job in the defense industry as retaliation for his objections to selling high-tech instruments to the Pakistani military."

At the Sept. 15 ceremony where Meyer was awarded the medal, President Obama praised him for being among "the best of a generation that has served through distinction through a decade of war."

Update at 3:45 p.m. ET. The Marine Corps "Failed" Meyer, Who Deserved The Honor, Landay Says; The Marine Corps Is "Very Disappointed" In McClatchy Newspapers:

In a conversation this afternoon with All Things Considered host Melissa Block, Landay said Meyer absolutely deserved the medal. "He was nominated for a good reason," Landay said. "His commander and the people who were there in the valley saw him perform incredibly heroic acts. And that was what he was put in for. It's what happened to his story once it got back here, to Washington, that I wrote about. There were deeds that were attributed to him that are impossible to verify from the witness statements of those same people who attested to his bravery. Those are documents that the Marine Corps has. Those are documents that the Marine Corps could have used to vet and do due diligence on his story. And they failed to do that. And in doing that, they failed him."

Landay said that the Marine Corps rushed the process because commanders "wanted a living medal of honor winner. They've been at war for the last 10 years, roughly. They've been in some of the toughest fights of those two wars. ... According to sources we've talked to they wanted a medal."

According to standard procedures, Landay said, "a medal of honor nomination must be made within three years of the event and then they have five years in which to do the investigation. ... The Marines pushed this through in a matter of months. Six to eight months. And that is extraordinary."

More from the conversation is due on today's All Things Consideredbroadcast. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-aired version of the interview to the top of this post.

Also today, the Marine Corps has issued a statement saying "we are personally very disappointed in the McClatchy Newspapers' decision to publish the article." It adds that:

"The rigorous award investigation process focuses on source information from direct eye-witnesses and other contemporaneously or near-contemporaneously recorded information. Investigators refer to these reliable sources and not to secondary sources such as newspapers, magazine articles, or books. Because of the nature of the events supporting awards for valor, it is normal for minor discrepancies to appear when reviewing the source information and collecting eyewitness statements. The integrity of the military awards system, however, is paramount in the minds of all Marine commanders; accordingly, awards for valor are not endorsed or approved without solid justification in the form of supporting documents and eyewitness statements. ...

"The accomplishments described in the MOH citation are valid, supported by two eyewitnesses as required, and confirm the merits of the MOH properly awarded to Cpl. Meyer."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said today that the president remains "very proud" of Meyer and his "remarkable acts of bravery," The Associated Press reports.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.