Into the Fire – Book Review
I have read many books written by Medal of Honor recipients. Each was highly focused on its account of the heroic and selfless actions that merited the awarding of this, America’s highest military honor. I find this genre of books inspiring and their stories truly remarkable, as I imagine most readers do. Consequently, before I began reading Into the Fire by Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer I anticipated the same type of book; however, as I began turning the pages; I realized Into the Fire was clearly unlike the past volumes I had read.
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Before I get into these differences, let me set the conditions for the rest of the review. First, for those unaware of actions of then Corporal Meyer (U.S. Marines), I believe it appropriate to display his Medal of Honor citation. It reads:
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The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to CORPORAL DAKOTA L. MEYER
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
For service as set forth in the following:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the repeated risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a member of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command 3-7, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on 8 September 2009. When the forward element of his combat team began to be hit by intense fire from roughly 50 Taliban insurgents dug-in and concealed on the slopes above Ganjgal village, Corporal Meyer mounted a gun-truck, enlisted a fellow Marine to drive, and raced to attack the ambushers and aid the trapped Marines and Afghan soldiers. During a six hour fire fight, Corporal Meyer single-handedly turned the tide of the battle, saved 36 Marines and soldiers and recovered the bodies of his fallen brothers. Four separate times he fought the kilometer up into the heart of a deadly U-shaped ambush. During the fight he killed at least eight Taliban, personally evacuated 12 friendly wounded, and provided cover for another 24 Marines and soldiers to escape likely death at the hands of a numerically superior and determined foe. On his first foray his lone vehicle drew machine gun, mortar, rocket grenade and small arms fire while he rescued five wounded soldiers. His second attack disrupted the enemy’s ambush and he evacuated four more wounded Marines. Switching to another gun-truck because his was too damaged they again sped in for a third time, and as turret gunner killed several Taliban attackers at point blank range and suppressed enemy fire so 24 Marines and soldiers could break-out. Despite being wounded, he made a fourth attack with three others to search for missing team members. Nearly surrounded and under heavy fire he dismounted the vehicle and searched house to house to recover the bodies of his fallen team members. By his extraordinary heroism, presence of mind amidst chaos and death, and unselfish devotion to his comrades in the face of great danger, Corporal Meyer reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
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Second, Meyer could not have selected a better partner to assist him in writing his book than Bing West. Having read many of West’s own individual works, I do not believe there is any writer today who is better at depicting the human dimension of war than he is. West possesses all the skills and attributes a Soldier or Marine would seek when wanting to tell his story. This includes his understanding of the Iraq and Afghanistan environments, his own service as a Marine combat veteran, and his superb writing and organizational skills. The significant impact of West can be found throughout Into the Fire.
I believe what separates Into the Fire from the other books I read is the emotions that are in full display. Throughout the pages, readers will find that Meyer does not hide or “sugar coat” his feelings. These include his emotions and thoughts, not only in regard to the events of September 8, 2009, but those of his life before and after that day as well. In particular, readers will experience the love and respect Meyer had for the members of his Marine Training Team, the individual pain and guilt he felt after the death of his team members, and the frustration he experienced during and after the September 8th operation.
For those with little experience with the military, it can be difficult to comprehend the bond existing between those serving or who have served. Nowhere is this bond stronger than in small military units. Into the Fire superbly conveys this connection for readers. I believe Meyer has done an outstanding job early in his book of articulating his feelings towards the members of his team, and of the Afghan soldiers he fought with. This is critical because it truly puts into perspective the reasons why Meyer took the actions he did at Ganjigal.
The aspect of Into the Fire that will surprise readers most is Meyer’s honest addressing of his emotions following the death of his team members. He discusses the pain and guilt he felt following their deaths; he blamed himself for those deaths. He also details the struggle he had (and has) with these feelings, and how they eventually led to a failed attempt to kill himself. Obviously, this is a powerful part of the book, and one that will affect readers deeply.
Meyer’s frustration is clearly evident in several areas, and he conveys this dissatisfaction in his volume. He faults the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that were in place during that time period and believes they severely hindered operations at Ganjigal. He is highly critical of the support his Team received from higher echelon units during the fighting on September 8th. Finally, he expresses his disappointment that a Soldier whom he fought alongside (Army Captain William Swenson) has not received the Medal of Honor for his own heroic actions at Ganjigal.
In summary, Into the Fire is a superb book and one that must be read. I believe it depicts the human dimension of war as well as any book I have read. It is a dimension that continues long after the last bullet is fired on the battlefield. Dakota Meyer, with the assistance of Bing West, has crafted a volume that will instill a wide range of emotions in every reader. This is unquestionably, a book which will engross you and one you will not put down until complete.
About the Author:
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is also co-author of the popular Armchair General Web series “Tactics 101.”