WASHINGTON -- In his memoir of the 2009 battle in Afghanistan that brought him the Medal of Honor, Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer describes how he reflexively switched from his machine gun to his rifle and back to his machine gun as he mowed down a swarm of charging Taliban from the vehicles turret.
My mind was completely blank. I fired so many thousands of rounds I didnt think what I was doing, Meyer, then a corporal, wrote in his 2012 book, Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.
But videos shot by Army medevac helicopter crewmen show no Taliban in that vicinity or anywhere else on the floor of the Ganjgal Valley at the time and location of the swarm. The videos also conflict with the version of the incident in Marine Corps and White House accounts of how Meyer, now 25, of Columbia, Ky., came to be awarded the nations highest military decoration for gallantry.
The videos add to the findings of an ongoing McClatchy investigation that determined that crucial parts of Meyers memoir were untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated, as were the Marine Corps and White House accounts of how he helped extract casualties from the valley under fire. The White House and Marine Corps have defended the accuracy of their accounts of Meyers actions. The Marine Corps declined to comment on the videos.
Army National Guard Sgt. Kevin Duerst, the helicopter crew chief whose helmet camera recorded one of the videos, confirmed the absence of insurgents on the valley floor as the aircraft flew in on a first run to retrieve casualties.
We totally flew over everything. . . . There was nothing going on down there, Duerst said in a telephone interview Friday. There was no serious gunfight going on.
Former Army Capt. William Swenson, whos to receive a Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on Tuesday for gallantry in the same battle, declined in an interview Sunday to directly address questions about the purported swarming of Meyers vehicle.
But, he said, the videos showed the reality of what happened in the Ganjgal Valley on Sept. 8, 2009.
Those videos allowed me to relive the reality of that battlefield: what I saw, what other people saw, where people were, the valley, the terraces, the trees, the friendlies, meaning Afghan and U.S. forces, said Swenson, 34, of Seattle. It shows the truth of that battle, a truth I never expected to see again.
In a telephone interview Friday, Meyer said, I wrote my book to the best of my recollection of what happened. And if thats not it, then thats not it.
After reviewing the videos, Meyer said his vehicle was charged after the helicopter had departed with Swensons wounded sergeant and an injured Afghan soldier. His book, however, puts the swarm before the aircraft landed for the pair.
Bing West, who co-authored the book, didnt address the videos in an email, saying only that a McClatchy reporter who survived the ambush has annually dredged up baseless innuendoes to attack the Medal of Honor process and to denigrate the valor of Meyer."
The videos arent the only new evidence thats surfaced that disputes crucial events described in the official accounts and in Meyers book.
The Army narrative of how Swenson was nominated for the Medal of Honor and Swensons comments in the interview undermine the books claim that Meyer killed an insurgent with a rock after hed joined the then-Army captain in an unarmored pickup to recover casualties.