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A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War

On the fateful day, the Marines were assigned to attend a shura (think powwow, with tea as the peace pipe) with an imam for whom they recently had built a mosque. Despite objections that the plan opened up their east flank — the flank that directly led to Pakistan, where Taliban and al-Qaeda were holed up— the Marines were sent anyway, with a full complement of Afghan soldiers and border police.

They were ambushed by a large force, but even while Marines and Afghans were being gunned down, they could not get approval for a fire mission from Army artillery commanders.

Dakota, who had been left behind as a punishment of sorts for actions considered overly aggressive by the brass, sat in frustration back at the base listening to his comrades, both Army and Marine, beg for artillery and air support but denied at every turn.

Finally, Meyer recruited Gunny Juan Rodriguez-Chavez for a rescue mission. With Rodriguez-Chavez driving a HUM-V and Meyer fully exposed while manning the turret, they drove into the gauntlet, not expecting they would survive to return.

It was the first of five forays against overwhelming odds that Meyer would make that day. And if being exposed to enemy fire in the gun turret doesn’t impress you enough, Meyer also spent a fair amount of one mission on foot. His weapons included not only the HUM-V’s heavy mounted gun but also a variety of rifles and grenade launchers. In one face-to-face moment while trying to rescue a fallen soldier, he killed a terrorist by bashing his head in with a rock.

Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez saved dozens of lives that day. Unfortunately, the Marines from their unit, as they discovered on Meyer’s fifth and last mission of the day, were overrun and killed.

Meyer doesn’t brag about his exploits or characterize anything he did as particularly brave; his overriding emotion in the book is frustration, not self-congratulation. In fact, he finds particular irony in the fact that he received his country’s highest honor for what he considers the worst day of his life.