“The story of what Dakota did . . . will be told for generations.”—President Barack Obama, from remarks given at Meyer’s Medal of Honor ceremony
In the fall of 2009, Taliban insurgents ambushed a patrol of Afghan soldiers and Marine advisors in a mountain village called Ganjigal. Firing from entrenched positions, the enemy was positioned to wipe out one hundred men who were pinned down and were repeatedly refused artillery support. Ordered to remain behind with the vehicles, twenty-one year-old Marine corporal Dakota Meyer disobeyed orders and attacked to rescue his comrades.
With a brave driver at the wheel, Meyer stood in the gun turret exposed to withering fire, rallying Afghan troops to follow. Over the course of the five hours, he charged into the valley time and again. Employing a variety of machine guns, rifles, grenade launchers, and even a rock, Meyer repeatedly repulsed enemy attackers, carried wounded Afghan soldiers to safety, and provided cover for dozens of others to escape—supreme acts of valor and determination. In the end, Meyer and four stalwart comrades—an Army captain, an Afghan sergeant major, and two Marines—cleared the battlefield and came to grips with a tragedy they knew could have been avoided. For his actions on that day, Meyer became the first living Marine in three decades to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Into the Fire tells the full story of the chaotic battle of Ganjigal for the first time, in a compelling, human way that reveals it as a microcosm of our recent wars. Meyer takes us from his upbringing on a farm in Kentucky, through his Marine and sniper training, onto the battlefield, and into the vexed aftermath of his harrowing exploits in a battle that has become the stuff of legend.
Investigations ensued, even as he was pitched back into battle alongside U.S. Army soldiers who embraced him as a fellow grunt. When it was over, he returned to the States to confront living with the loss of his closest friends. This is a tale of American values and upbringing, of stunning heroism, and of adjusting to loss and to civilian life.
We see it all through Meyer’s eyes, bullet by bullet, with raw honesty in telling of both the errors that resulted in tragedy and the resolve of American soldiers, U.S. Marines, and Afghan soldiers who’d been abandoned and faced certain death.
Meticulously researched and thrillingly told, with nonstop pace and vivid detail,
Into the Fire is the unvarnished story of a modern American hero.
Praise for Into the Fire
“A story of men at their best and at their worst . . . leaves you gaping in admiration at Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer’s courage.”—
“Meyer’s dazzling bravery wasn’t momentary or impulsive but deliberate and sustained.”—
The Wall Street Journal
“[A] cathartic, heartfelt account . . . Combat memoirs don’t get any more personal.”—
“A great contribution to the discussion of an agonizingly complex subject.”—
Black Hawk Down meets
“A story of men at their best and at their worst . . . leaves you gaping in admiration at Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer’s courage.”
“Meyer’s dazzling bravery wasn’t momentary or impulsive but deliberate and sustained.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] cathartic, heartfelt account . . . Combat memoirs don’t get any more personal.”
“A great contribution to the discussion of an agonizingly complex subject.”
Black Hawk Down meets
Into the Fire is a deeply compelling tale of valor and duty. Dakota Meyer will not identify as a hero, but he will, I think, accept the title warrior. Dakota''s storytelling is precise and, for a Medal of Honor recipient, touchingly humble. With deft prose he drops us smack in the middle of one of the most heinous small unit firefights of the current wars. His insights into military tactics and politics in a war zone are sharp and uncompromising and work as a primer on infantry war fighting for the uninitiated. Dakota was a magnificent marine and he is now an equally magnificent chronicler of warfare and the small group of people who do today''s fighting for America.”
—Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
“The story of what Dakota did . . . will be told for generations.”
—President Barack Obama, from remarks given at Meyer’s Medal of Honor ceremony
“Sergeant Meyer embodies all that is good about our nation’s Corps of Marines. . . . [His] heroic actions . . . will forever be etched in our Corps’ rich legacy of courage and valor.”
—General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps
“[Bing] West’s greatest strengths are his exceptional personal courage and his experienced perception of combat.”
—The Washington Post
“West [is] the grunts’ Homer.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
Dakota Meyer was born and raised in Columbia, Kentucky, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2006. A school-trained sniper and highly skilled infantryman, Corporal Meyer deployed to Iraq in 2007 and to Afghanistan in 2009. In 2011, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his unyielding courage in the battle of Ganjigal. He now competes at charity events in skeet and rifle competitions. He also speaks frequently at schools and veterans’ events to raise awareness of our military and remains dedicated to the causes of our veterans. For the families of fallen troops, he has raised over one million dollars.
Bing West has written eleven books, including, with Jim Mattis, the #1
New York Times bestseller
Call Sign Chaos. He served as a Marine grunt in Vietnam and later as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He has been on hundreds of patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many operations with General Mattis. He is a member of the Military History Working Group at the Hoover Institution. He lives with his wife, Betsy, in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Newport, Rhode Island.
“I hope to have God on my side,” President Lincoln wrote in 1862, regarding the Union’s chances for victory in the Civil War, “but I must have Kentucky.”
That independence of spirit that you might call the nation’s soul is alive and well in the farming communities of central Kentucky.
My tiny town of Columbia might be considered poor by some standards. We don’t look at it like that. We enjoy being on our own, making do with what we scratch out for ourselves. The land is the reason people stay, generation after generation. If you drive through Columbia, you’ll see modest homes and trailers on slab foundations, set near the road. Fields stretch out where cattle and horses graze. Nowadays, farming provides only a supplemental income for most families. Commutes of twenty to sixty miles are common to hold down day jobs. But the land keeps people returning to their homes at the end of the workday—this feeling of space that comes with owning the acres outside your back door.
I’m not saying it’s always wonderful. My home life growing up was like tumbling inside a washing machine as I shuttled around the middle of Kentucky with my mother. She was never content to stay in one place, or with one man, for too long. She was as smart as she was independent, though, and always landed some job that brought in a little money.
Summers provided stability because my mother let me stay for weeks at Mike Meyer’s farm. Mike was briefly married to my mother, and he legally adopted me when I was born. As for my biological father, I had no contact with him. I learned early on that just because you come from the same blood as someone doesn’t mean they are family. Big Mike Meyer was my real dad as far as I was concerned.
Big Mike, a University of Kentucky graduate, owned a three-hundred-acre farm in Greensburg. He worked for Southern States, a farmer-owned cooperative, and brought in extra cash by raising beef cows. He lived in a plain house surrounded by open fields, with no curtains on the windows or pictures on the walls. He came home each day, put on his overalls, and tended to chores. Big Mike liked a steady routine, hunting, and the satisfaction of a well-run farm.
His dad, Dwight, owned a bigger farm on the other side of the creek. Dwight had served in the Marines and had later been an engineer. He held himself and others to rigid standards, as if he could see the proper ways of living by looking through his surveyor’s scope. He was, and still is, a fair but hard-to-please man. Despite my falling short fairly often, he always seemed to think I was someone worth having in the family. If you can feel that from your family, nothing can touch you.
When asked to describe my nature, Big Mike likes to tell the story of the ATV. Big Mike kept his all-terrain vehicle in the shed next to the house. Consisting of a motor, a seat, and three or four wheels, the ATV is the twentieth-century horse on farms across America. It goes anywhere on a few gallons of gasoline and you don’t have to shovel out the stable afterward. It can speed across fields, splash through creeks, and claw up hillsides. Without the ATV, life on a farm would be pure drudgery.
As a four-year-old, I was obsessed with it. I’d perch on the seat for hours, begging Dad to take me for one more ride. Finally, he decided to teach me a lesson.
“Ko,” he said, which was my nickname, “I have work to do. No more rides. When you’re big enough to start the machine yourself, you can drive it yourself.”
Since you had to kick-start it like a balky motorcycle, Dad thought it would be a year or more before I could do that. He’d sit on the stoop after work, smiling as I pushed my little legs down, time and again. This went on for weeks. The angrier I got, the more I tried. The thing would not budge. We are both pretty stubborn.
Big Mike was in the kitchen when he finally heard chug-chug and rushed outside to see me smiling brightly. I’d figured out how to climb up on the seat and jump down on the kick lever with all forty pounds of me until that damn ATV started. So he let me take it for a spin.
When I was eight, Dad brought me to his favorite tree stand on a cool October morning before dawn. He was brushing leaves away to climb up into the stand when a deer walked into the open behind him, not fifty feet from us.
“Dad,” I whispered, “there’s a deer.”
He squinted over his shoulder in the thin light.
“If it has horns,” he whispered, “shoot it.”
I let go with a shotgun. The deer leaped straight up in the air and crashed down on its side without quivering. I had killed an eight-point buck.
When we butchered the carcass, I was so excited that the warm guts and the heavy smell of the blood didn’t bother me. In the years after that, hitting moving animals and birds gradually became second nature. Cutting up fresh kills, ugly as that sounds, accustomed me to what I would encounter a decade later on the battlefield.
I had been in grammar school only a few years when my mother called Big Mike to say it seemed best if I stayed with him permanently. One short phone call and my life had changed for the better.
When I was eleven, my school held a contest for the best public speaker in each grade, and Big Mike encouraged me to enter.
I wrote down what I wanted to say, and Dad and I practiced my lines at least ten times a day.
“Slow down when you speak,” he said. “Think about your main message and say it clearly.”
Each speaker had three minutes. When it was my turn, I talked about Tinker Bell, the Cowboy Cow. We had no horses on our farm, so I picked out this big old cow and petted and talked to her every evening. When she learned to come to my voice, I rewarded her with peaches and Dr Pepper. Eventually, I was riding her to herd the other cows and lasso them. I concluded my speech by declaring that Tinker Bell and I could win any cow race in the county, maybe in the whole state.
My little speech won first prize for the sixth grade. From that tiny victory, I developed a confidence in speaking up that would later exasperate Marine sergeants (and cause me some grief on occasion).
Each year, Dad gave me responsibility for ever more serious chores. When I was in the seventh grade, Grandfather Dwight—Dad’s dad—came by one fall day while I was driving the big tractor, spiking balls of hay. This meant I was constantly shifting in the seat to look down at the steel forks and keep them aligned. Grandfather Dwight lit into me with his booming voice. He thought I’d tip over the tractor and be crushed.
When Dad got home an hour later, one glance told him what was going on with the tractor and me and Grandpa. I was trembling and shaky. Dad put his arm around me and looked at his father.
“He knows what he’s doing,” he said. “Ko, you go finish moving in hay.”
When I was in the eighth grade, we were still growing tobacco on our farm. In summer, when the broad leaves on the tobacco plants reached as tall as a man, you’d hack off the stem and thrust a wooden pole through the leaf. When you’d speared ten stalks—twenty or more pounds—you’d stack the load in the patch for a few days, or toss it onto a trailer to take and hang in the barn.
Mexican itinerant workers came to do the cutting. The pay was ten cents a spear. I asked Dad to hire me. I would work for an hour and then collapse for two. The Mexican workers stayed in the fields ten hours a day, hoisting sixty spears an hour. They were the hardest-working men I’ve ever seen.
You could wear long-sleeved clothes, gloves, and a mask or kerchief to protect yourself while cutting. I chose not to, so all that tobacco would rub in through my sweat. After work, I’d vomit until I had retched out the nicotine poison. One night I couldn’t stop throwing up and Dad rushed me to the hospital. Even after they pumped fluids into me, I was so dehydrated I couldn’t pee. The nurses were about to put in a urinary catheter when my dad, laughing at my expression, persuaded them not to. Most small farmers quit raising tobacco after the legal settlements in the late ’90s. I often wondered what became of those tough, cheerful Mexican workers.
I did all right in school, especially in math. Dad did not let up on me. When I left the laundry half done one day—I had stayed out too late and, for once, got home after he did—he had tossed the laundry out onto the lawn so I could start over and do it right.
But he didn’t do stuff like that often because he didn’t need to—I was listening and learning.