Composite by Coffee or Die.
Since President George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, three Marines have received the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Two GWOT Marines earned the Medal of Honor for covering enemy grenades with their bodies to smother the blast and save their brothers in arms — one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. One lived to tell his own inspiring story. The third Marine earned the medal for his heroics during a harrowing ambush in Afghanistan.
All three of their incredible stories have been immortalized in books that would make great gifts for any lover of military nonfiction or fan of Marine Corps history.
Wall Street Journal reporter Michael M. Phillips was embedded in Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, in April 2004 when he first learned the story of Cpl. Jason Dunham.
The 22-year-old Marine, who hails from the one-stoplight town of Scio, New York, was on patrol near the Syrian border in Karabilah, Iraq, April 14, 2004, when an Iraqi leaped out of a car and attacked him. While wrestling the insurgent to the ground, Dunham saw him release a grenade. He immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat and, without hesitation, covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. When the smoke cleared, Dunham’s helmet was in shreds, and the corporal lay face down in his own blood. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery, Dunham saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines.
In The Gift of Valor, Phillips provides a detailed chronicle of the chaotic fighting in the region, Dunham’s inspiring embodiment of the Marine warrior ethos, and the corporal’s eight-day journey home, where Phillips renders a heart-wrenching reunion with Dunham’s parents that powerfully illustrates the cold brutality of war and the fragile humanity of those who fight it.
Cpl. Dakota L. Meyer was serving with a Marine Embedded Training Team in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2009, when Taliban insurgents ambushed a patrol of Afghan soldiers and Marine advisers in the mountain village of Ganjgal. Firing from entrenched positions, the enemy was poised to wipe out 100 men who were repeatedly refused artillery support despite being pinned down. Ordered to remain behind with the vehicles, 21-year-old Meyer disobeyed orders and attacked to rescue his comrades.
Over the course of five hours, Meyer charged into the valley time and again. His official award citation captures the harrowing details:
“With a fellow Marine driving, Corporal Meyer took the exposed gunner’s position in a gun-truck as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the trapped U.S. team. Disregarding intense enemy fire now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Corporal Meyer killed a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine guns and his rifle, some at near point blank range, as he and his driver made three solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers, many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became inoperable, he directed a return to the rally point to switch to another gun-truck for a third trip into the ambush area where his accurate fire directly supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers fighting their way out of the ambush. Despite a shrapnel wound to his arm, Corporal Meyer made two more trips into the ambush area in a third gun-truck accompanied by four other Afghan vehicles to recover more wounded Afghan soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members.”
For his actions on that day, Meyer became the first living Marine in three decades to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Army Capt. William D. Swenson also received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the same battle, and Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez and Marine Capt. Ademola Fabayo received the Navy Cross for their actions that day.
Into the Fire, written by Meyer and Francis J. “Bing” West Jr., provides a detailed account of the chaotic battle of Ganjgal.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter and fellow Marine Nick Eufrazio were manning a rooftop security position in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when the enemy initiated an attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position. Without hesitation, Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast. When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him, but saving the life of his fellow Marine.
Carpenter suffered grievous wounds, and his heart flatlined three times while being evacuated off the battlefield. He lost his right eye as well as most of his jaw. It took dozens of surgeries and nearly three years in and out of the hospital to reconstruct his body.
For his heroic sacrifice, Carpenter was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2014, making him the youngest living recipient of the award and only the second living Marine since Vietnam to receive the medal.
You Are Worth It is Carpenter’s memoir about Afghanistan and his philosophical outlook on life. The book encourages readers to find their purpose and become their best selves, regardless of the hurdles they face along the way.
Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.