‘For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the repeated risk of his life…’ Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer… recipient of the Medal of Honor. True grit.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. For this article, there is only one song that will do: the Marines’ Hymn of the United States Marine Corps with its revered and unmistakable opening line, “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”.

Given that it’s one of the signature songs of the nation surprisingly little is known about it. The music is from the “Gendarmes’ Duet” from an 1867 revision of the 1859 opera “Genevieve de Brabant” by Jacques Offenbach, the man who wrote the music for the scandalous “Can, can.” The lyrics are more obscure because there is no known 19th century version. Legend has it that it was penned by a Marine on duty during the Mexican war (1846-1848), hence “From the halls of Montezuma…”

On September 15, 2011 at a White House ceremony presided over by President Obama it will be played with the pride and flourishes it has earned for Dakota Meyer, the man fate allowed to serve instead of die… and whose selfless heroism embodies the best of the nation… at a time when America needs to be reminded of who we are, how we got here, and the people and characteristics we need to carry the great Republic forward….

“Operation Enduring Freedom,” part of the Afghan War which promised much, and delivered little.

Every once in a while, the nation remembers it is at war, first in Iraq, then, very much an afterthought, in Afghanistan, where warfare is the biggest part of its history, economy and past, present and, one sadly concludes, future. Afghanistan is simply a cauldron where the many elements of unending instability and war are blended together to create a noisome, noxious vintage. It is a place no sensible person wishes to go… and where the words “Operation Enduring Freedom” are nothing so much as high irony, grand but unobtainable objectives, a cruel hoax. Into this unforgiving land, Dakota Meyer came to make history.

The date was September 8, 2009.

It was another hazardous day in hazardous Kunar province where Meyer was serving with Embedded Training Team 2-8. There was news… and it was bad, the kind of news no Marine wants to hear and which he instinctively wants to do something about: a group of insurgents had attacked with savage results. Three U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman were missing.

Dakota Meyer didn’t have to think about what to do… he knew. His responsibility was to rescue his brothers… any other action was unthinkable. Marines help Marines. And that was what he and his combat team set out to do as they moved forward to find and engage the enemy.

Let us recreate the circumstances of that fateful day…

As the combat team moved forward it was hit by intense fire from roughly 50 Taliban insurgents dug-in and concealed on the slopes of Ganjgal village. They had to be removed to accomplish the rescue mission.

Meyer, trained for such an event, mounted a gun-truck, enlisted a fellow Marine to drive, and raced to attack the ambushers and aid the trapped Marines and some Afghan soldiers, too. What ensued was a six-hour fire fight in which Corporal Meyer called upon every feature of brain and body. The Taliban was determined Corporal Meyer would not advance… he was equally determined that he would. The result was war, war in all its brutalities, in all its unpredictabilities, its confusions, and unexpected developments, war to the death between wary opponents who respected each other’s capabilities and meant to have victory… whatever must be done.

Yes, Dakota Meyer meant to go forward… And his determination to do so changed dozens of lives, not least his own. He had brothers to rescue and nothing, absolutely nothing was going to stand in the way of getting to them and bringing them back. Absolutely nothing.

As he moved forward, inexorably forward, he changed lives. He saved 36 Marines and Afghan soldiers that day before he found the bodies of his 4 brothers. To get to them he performed deeds prodigious, sublime, unimaginable. Alone, he charged into the heart of a deadly U-shaped Taliban ambush.

But not just once… not twice… not even three times… but he went into this vortex of mayhem and death four times. What drives at man so, when such a forward policy could, in an instant, send him into eternity and his mangled body home to grieving parents and relations? What drives a man at such a moment, when all the joys and pleasures of a young life could end in an instant?

He was insistent, determined that his brothers, or whatever was left of them, should not be mutilated, humiliated, and left to rot in the inhospitable soil of this supremely inhospitable land. He did not think of death… or valor…. or heroism. He thought of brothers, of buddies, young men as young as he, just a moment ago bursting with hijinx and wise-cracking humor… now face down in their own blood and the dust of Afghanistan. These brothers, spirits now, called out to Dakota Meyer… and they did not call out in vain.

Charging alone into the enraged, determined Taliban he focused on his mission… beyond thoughts of death. At such a moment, facing fearsome odds, a man becomes so certain he will die that a profound liberation occurs… because death is likely, he means to exact a terrible price on the enemy… and he finds hitherto unknown strengths and abilities which he is determined should be fully used with deadly effect.

Meyer killed 8 Taliban!

Meyer personally evacuated 12 friendly wounded!

Meyer provided cover for another 24 Marines and soldiers to escape likely death at the hands of a determined and numerically superior foe!

On his first foray his lone vehicle drew machine gun, mortar, rocket grenade and small arms fire while he rescued five wounded soldiers.

His second attack disrupted the enemy’s ambush and he evacuated four more wounded Marines.

Switching to anther gun-truck because his was too damaged they again sped in for a third time, and as turret gunner killed several Taliban attackers at point-blank range and suppressed enemy fire so 24 Marines and soldiers could break-out.

Despite being wounded, he made a fourth attack with three others to search for missing team members. Nearly surrounded and under heavy fire he dismounted the vehicle and searched house to house to recover the bodies of his fallen team members, the brothers who he valued beyond his own life and who, he knew, would have done as much for him. As any Marine would…

One of only 86 people to receive the Medal of Honor while still living.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award. It represents the highest standard of courage, boldness, and valor. Only 86 living people have received it and the last Marine to do so was Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg, Jr. in 1973 for gallantry in Vietnam.

Meyer, modest, polite, affable, makes it clear that he is no hero, just a Marine doing his best for his brothers… but we are not circumscribed in what we may say about this man who, by any reckoning, should have died that day a dozen times in Ganjgal…. but who instead delivered life to many colleagues without thought of his own. It is fitting and proper to award such a rare and prestigious award to such as Dakota Meyer… a man who, so young, reminds America that great deeds are conceived in selflessness and sacrifice. God shed his grace on thee, Dakota Meyer. You remind us all of what we each must do to ensure He sheds it still on all of us and our great exercise of freedom, now challenged on all sides.

U.S. Marine Sergeant William Woitowicz. Dead too soon at 23 in ‘the place where the winds arise’. June 7, 2011.

y Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s note. This is a sombre article on a sombre subject. I have chosen the deeply moving music “Swing low, sweet chariot” to set the mood. There are many fine versions of this well-known tune written by Wallis Willis in 1862.

I have chosen the one by Kevin Maynor. You will find it in any search engine. Listen to it without interruption of any kind. This powerful song deserves nothing less.

Mellifluous language.

The Persian language is a language of poetry and culture. It is fluid, nuanced, and often extraordinarily beautiful. So evocative are its words that once bestowed on a person, place or thing, these matters, hum-drum anywhere else, are turned as if by magic, into words of lyric beauty.

Such a fortunate place is Badghis, a province in the northwest of the nation of Afghanistan. It is a place of winds, many bruising and destructive. Other places, like Chicago, the “windy city,” have been blunt about its disposition. Badjhis prefers a softer touch that makes the point, but does so without a candor that can be abrasive.

And so this place came to be called the land “where the winds arise” and it is where U.S. Marine Sergeant William J. Woitowicz fell never to rise again, cut down by small-arms fire and so released so early from the thrall of life.

Where he fell, how he fell, just what happened when,are the pedestrian details of an incident soon to be forgotten and without any significance to anyone but William J. Woitowicz. He expired in the full bloom of youth on an ordinary day, where the quotidian was mundane, banal, commonplace to a degree, and where absolutely nothing done that day was unusual or important… except this particular sergeant. For him that day was everything…

From a place far, far away.

Ever been to Groton, Massachusetts or its near neighbor Westford? If not, make plans to visit. The fall is best, since those autumnal days of colored leaves and crisp, clear skies showcase these typical New England towns best. These are places so scenic, your finger automatically takes the pictures you will share with friends along with your decided opinion on how nice these previously unknown places really are.

No one was more of these serene bedroom communities than William Woitowicz. He knew them down to his fingertips, and they knew the brawny athlete with the killer smile and winning ways. People just plain liked him… and he, without much wondering why, liked them in return. It was a formula for many of life’s happynesses. Make a note that when your next child or grandchild is born to ask the fairies to give unstintingly of charm and an inquisitive mind. Woitowicz was gifted with both and showed just how far they could take a likely laddie.

For such a boy, the world was his oyster; everything possible, the very best that could be had in the great Republic.

That is why his decision to join the Marines directly following high school graduation in 2007 came as a shock. It was not the career path of choice parents like Kevin and Rosemary Woitowicz could understand, approve or recommend.

But their son (remember that killer smile) soon showed his “devastated” parents why his decision made sense — for him. And, of course, in this situation, as so many others, parents, even strongly disapproving parents, could in the end only concur and offer heartfelt wishes. And so they did for Billy Woitowicz. He was now en route to his strange destiny.

He now had the kind of lifestyle that exults Marines and causes lesser folk, needing their comforts, to cringe. But Woitowicz, having made his choice, was determined to turn himself not merely into a superb Marine, but the most cheerful Marine ever; it was an unusual combination… and it did not go unnoticed. Billy, in the Marines as at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, was noticed; people kept their eyes on the man, he could be counted on. That means everything to Marines, for whom the word “buddy” constitutes a religion.

They needed him and all the other meritorious Marines everywhere there was America’s business to transact. But it could only send this particular Marine to one high priority place… and the place they needed him yesterday was Afghanistan, the basket case of nations, where people like Billy were gold, not least because the locals soon understood his smile was for them, too.

And, by the way, he volunteered for Afghanistan; he knew the “basket case” needed what he had in excess, and to spare: humanity.

June 7, 2011, a day like any day.

June 7 had “routine” written all over it. And so it started… Billy was deployed as part of the Second Marine Special Operations Battalion of the Marine Special Operations Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

No one expected anything to go wrong; everyone was prepared in case it did. And then, in an instant, it went terribly, terribly wrong for Billy Woitowicz; the gym-tailored body he had been so anxious to perfect, lay face down in the dust of one of the most miserable countries on earth his hair dappled with blood and blasted expectations.

No one, despite their sense and exhaustive training, could quite take it in: Billly Woitowicz had gone before… “Swing low, sweet chariot…” and he had his orders from the highest source:

“Well if you get there before I do, Coming for to carry me home. Tell all my friends I’m a coming too, Coming for to carry me home.”

Carried home.

The people of Groton and Westford did Bilie proud. Never in their long history of service, patriotism and support had these communities poured out their pride and gratitude, their grief and pain for any citizen as they did for this citizen.

The Marine Corps, more than a career, his vocation, advanced him to the rank of sergeant and the Purple Heart. From the Corps he loved and served unto death this meant everything.

The flags at half mast, the bunting, the remnants of the heartfelt ceremonies civil and religious are all apparent, And on another day of “war as usual” Billie abides in peace in the town he knew so well, amongst the citizens who liked and loved him. Here, in tranquility he graces the ages with his all-embraciing killer smile taken too soon from us in the land where the wind arises.

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About The Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at http://homeprofitcoach.com/listbuilding