Kentuckian deserves Medal of Honor, said brother of deceased Marine

Kentucky native valiantly tried to save other Marines

jwarren@herald-leader.comJuly 26, 2011 

Pikeville's Chase Goodman is hoping that Kentucky native Dakota Meyer gets nationwide recognition for the Medal of Honor he's to receive for braving enemy fire to retrieve the bodies of four buddies in Afghanistan in 2009.

And he hopes the medal will make more Americans aware of the military errors and oversights that, Goodman believes, led to the four men's deaths.

Goodman has a personal interest in the story: his half-brother, Marine 1st Lt. Michael Johnson of Virginia Beach, Va., was one of the four men Meyer tried to save.

"I think that at some point Dakota probably knew they were already dead," Goodman said Monday. "But the simple fact of his determination to rush in there and try to pull them out regardless ... it's just extraordinary. I'd really like for him to get some recognition for what he did."

The Pentagon confirmed last week that President Barack Obama will present Meyer with the Medal of Honor — America's highest military decoration for valor — for his selfless act.

Meyer, who went off active duty last year, will be the first living Marine in 41 years to receive the Medal of Honor.

Originally from Greensburg, Meyer now lives in Austin, Texas.

He is being honored for retrieving the bodies of Johnson, 25; Marine Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, 31; Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30; Navy Corpsman James Layton, 22; and an Afghan soldier they were training. Meyer himself received shrapnel wounds in the process.

Soon after the September 2009 incident, reporting by McClatchy Newspapers' Jonathan S. Landay revealed for the first time that the Marines' desperate calls for help had gone unanswered. Landay, who was embedded with the troops, reported that they waited for more than an hour for U.S. helicopters, despite being told that choppers were only minutes away.

The Army refused to provide supporting fire for the men, fearing they might hit civilians, Landay wrote. The Army later blamed "negligent leadership" for the loss of life. Last year, Army Times reported that the Army "severely reprimanded" two of three officers cited for negligence in connection with the mission.

Goodman, who said his family has heard recordings and seen transcripts of some radio transmissions from the fight, said he agrees with that assessment.

"It seems to me, from the recordings we heard, that they basically just told these guys to fight on as long as they could, just sit there and take it," Goodman said.

"The last transcript I was able to see was my brother saying, 'We're running low on ammo; if you don't help us we're going to die.' It still gets me choked up."

According to Landay's original report, a force of Afghan soldiers and border guards with their Marine and U.S. Army trainers was supposed to enter the village of Ganjgal, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, to conduct a surprise weapons search. But insurgents, apparently tipped off that they were coming, opened fire as soon as they arrived.

The trapped men remained pinned down and cut off for roughly five hours.

"We basically screwed our guys over," then Cpl. Dakota Meyer stated at the time in Landay's story. "They expect us to bring stuff to the fight, and (U.S. commanders) didn't give it to us."

Meyer ultimately decided to try to reach the trapped men, only to find them dead. In interviews since he was first nominated for the medal, Meyer, now 23, has tried to downplay his contribution.

"At the end of the day, it's not about me," he told the Herald-Leader last year. "I'm absolutely the furthest thing from a hero. I'm just an ordinary guy who got put in extraordinary circumstances and just did my job."

Goodman says he's exchanged phone calls and e-mails with Meyer several times.

"To be quite honest, I'm not sure he even wants the medal," Goodman said. "He's a reluctant hero. That's what I've told my friends."

But Goodman, who is a high school teacher, says there's no doubt Meyer is a true hero.

"If Dakota had not done what he did, we would not have had a body to bury," he said. "The insurgents would have taken the bodies away, because that's what they do to cause mental grief to loved ones back home."

Goodman grew up with Michael Johnson and two other half-brothers in Virginia Beach. They were close though they had different fathers, he said. "Obviously, they were my half-brothers, but we never thought of ourselves that way," he said. "My brother Mike was a warrior. He graduated from Oregon State University with the goal of becoming a Marine, and he went in as an officer. He was really gung-ho."

Mike Johnson's twin brother, Danny Johnson, lives in Oregon, and a younger brother, Steven Johnson, in Virginia Beach. Goodman, the oldest at 36, has lived in Pikeville since 1989.

The details of his half-brother's death have "torn our family apart. We're a military family. My mother was really gung-ho for the Marines, but since this happened she has kind of lost faith in the system," Goodman said.

He thinks Dakota Meyer also is dealing with lingering pain.

"He's struggling with it still, as far as what happened over there. He had to sit there and listen to those repeated calls for help. I think it's really taken a toll on him."

The approaching second anniversary of his brother's death will be especially hard for family members, Goodman said.

"It's like a scab that's being re-opened," he said. "This has become a forgotten war. At this point, I don't understand what we are doing there. We've become so desensitized to war that people seem to be more concerned with celebrity gossip than what's really going on. It's sad.

"I just hope that this honor for Dakota will get some national attention as to what actually happened. He's a wonderful guy."

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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