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Medal of Honor Ceremony for Sergeant Dakota Meyer

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon, Friday, September 16, 2011

Sergeant Dakota Meyer’s family and friends, it’s a real privilege for me to be here today to pay tribute to this remarkable Marine.  I want to extend in particular a warm welcome to your family, your father, and your grandparents.  It’s been my experience that for every warrior out there, behind them is a family that supports and shares in the sacrifice that’s involved in serving this country.  And that support and sacrifice provided by the families of our service men and women is central to the strength of our military.  This doesn’t happen unless every soldier, every Marine, every sailor, has the love and support of their family.  It counts a lot.  Throughout America they quietly serve as the critical foundation for our nation’s security.  This place doesn’t work unless the families are there in providing the essential support and the service that’s provided by their sons and daughters.  So I thank you for that sacrifice and I thank you for that love, for all you have done on behalf of Dakota and behalf of America.

This past Sunday, we marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11 –in many ways a defining moment for the nation that still resonates a decade later.  For brave young Americans like Sergeant Meyer, the attacks on our country were a call to service, a call to protect our country from the enemies that despise our values and what we believe in.  A new, great American generation emerged out of that tragedy – a generation that has proven its patriotism, its proven its strength and its proven its determination on the battlefield during this last ten years of war that I think truly marks it as one of the great generations in our history. 

Dakota enlisted in the Marines and served a combat tour in Fallujah.  He then volunteered for duty in Afghanistan, to serve with his fellow Marines who were battling a very tough insurgency in that country.  Those decisions alone set Dakota apart from so many Americans.  But, as Ray pointed out, he distinguished himself by what he did on that day, the incredible valor and the uncommon fearlessness that truly went above and beyond the call of duty.   

As was pointed out, he was outnumbered and in the face of heavy enemy machine gun and rocket fire, nevertheless Dakota disregarded his own safety as he charged into the enemy kill zone, again and again and again, searching for missing members of the Marine training team and their Afghan counterparts – searching for his friends.  Wounded, and still under enemy fire, he was determined to recover the bodies of his fallen team members, his fallen brothers, to bring them home.

About that day, as we all know, he said “I’m not a hero by any means – I’m a Marine, that’s what I am.”  Well Sergeant Meyer, you are indeed a Marine but you are also indeeda hero.  You have more than lived up to the proud Marine traditions of those who have shown what it takes to wear the eagle, globe, and anchor – great Americans such as your grandfather, Dwight, who joins us today and who served as a Marine in the Korean War.  

At the end of his book, With the Old Breed, recounting the horrors of fighting in the Pacific during World War II, Marine veteran E.B. Sledge wrote: “Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it.  The only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other.  Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive.  But it also taught us loyalty to each other – and love.” 

Dakota, you demonstrated your fighting capabilities as a warrior, but more importantly you demonstrated your love for your comrades, and those you fought with, to put your life on the line to bring back those who did not survive the battle that day.  By your actions, you have earned a place in history.  And the devotion you showed to your fellow brothers-in-arms will never be forgotten.  

Across this nation, in cities and small towns, like Dakota’s hometown of Greensburg, Kentucky, warriors are returning from foreign lands to their loved ones.  They are also returning to a country that will turn to them to lead us into the future.  Like other great American generations, these men and women poured their sweat and their blood on foreign lands to defend this country.  And like those resolute generations before them, this one is being called upon to help us to build a better and stronger America.  For far too many returning veterans, these times of economic hardship, hard times, have meant a difficult transition to civilian life.  It is our moral obligation to never leave behind those that have swore an oath to protect and defend the United States of America. 

The same sense of duty that drove this Marine in his service to his comrades and to his country must be the same sense of duty that drives all of us to be faithful to those who serve this country.  The ultimate way each one of us can uphold the standard set by Sergeant Meyer and honor those that are lost in battle, is to try and live up to the motto of the Marine Corps: Semper Fi, “always faithful.”

The toughest thing that I have to do as Secretary of Defense is to write condolence letters to the families of those who give their lives for this country.  I struggle to find words that can provide some degree of comfort to those families.  The only words that I try to write are that as tough as it is to lose a loved one, perhaps there is some comfort to know that they gave their lives for this country, and that they are heroes and they are patriots and that they will never be forgotten.  It is some reward for me today, to be able to look into the eyes of this Marine, and say you are a hero, you are a patriot, and you will never be forgotten. 

Sergeant Meyer, on behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank you for your service and for your bravery.  The future of our democracy depends on the willingness of every generation to fight for what’s right, and what’s best for this country.  And your story will forever inspire future generations to fulfill that fundamental duty that we all have as citizens in this great land.  To make sure that the virtues and the values that are the source of America’s strength that have built this nation, that have created this great land that we are a part of, will always be defended and will always be protected. 

May God bless you and may God bless all of our men and women in uniform.

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