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Dakota, Hero
Bing West tells a story of great courage.

Dakota Meyer, from the cover of Into the Fire

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LOPEZ: How should history remember Lieutenant Michael E. Johnson, Staff Sergeant Aaron M. Kenefick, and Corpsman 3rd Class James R. Layton? 

WEST: Even in death, the team stayed together for each other. 

LOPEZ: The late Afghani Dodd Ali is an important part of the story of Dakota Meyer and Afghanistan, isn’t he? 

WEST: Dodd Ali symbolized the goodness, likability, loyalty, and bravery of the Afghan farmer turned soldier. Dodd Ali never flinched. 

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LOPEZ: Why is it so important that Army Captain William Swenson receive a Medal of Honor? 

WEST: Army Captain William Swenson took command when others choked. He was recommended at the battalion and the brigade level for the Medal of Honor, together with Dakota. Yet at the Army general-officer level, the recommendation was “lost” for two years. This is an institutional disgrace the Army must rectify.

LOPEZ: How would you hope Americans might think about the war in Afghanistan? About the Afghan people? About our Americans who have died in Afghanistan? 

WEST: It’s too early to know how Afghanistan turns out internally. It’s not too early to observe that we have achieved our basic goal: preventing Afghanistan from being a sanctuary from which terrorists can again attack our civilians. 

LOPEZ: Is there anything every voter ought to consider from Dakota Meyer’s story before he votes? 

WEST: Standing tall is the best course for America. 

LOPEZ: Why do you keep going back to Afghanistan?

WEST: Someone has to tell the story of the grunts from the perspective of a grunt. A grunt over the course of a seven-month deployment carries 95 pounds on his back on a hundred patrols, walking one million steps through dirt laced with mines that take your life or your legs. One million steps. Someone has to go with them and report back.

LOPEZ: You understand all too well why the suicide rate is so high among veterans. What can be done? Not just by the federal government but local communities? 

WEST: Too complicated for me to venture an answer. 

LOPEZ: Does it bother you that most of the country doesn’t serve in the military and has no real connection to it? 

WEST: Today, we don’t have a spirit of shared sacrifice. Neither President Bush nor President Obama as the commander-in-chief understood that his role was to inculcate a feeling of togetherness when we go to war. However, our nation has matured tremendously since the Vietnam days when we in uniform were not welcomed when we returned home. In the past decade, our nation has done a terrific job of supporting our troops. Terrific. 

LOPEZ: It seems such a 101 question, but you’re in a unique position to reflect on it: What is freedom? 

WEST: I cannot improve upon life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

 Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.



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