Lee Meyer has seen many of the nation’s heroes during career in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Lt. Col. Meyer participated in Medal of Honor presentations in March, handing the medal and sash representing the country’s highest military honor to the President for presentation.
The ceremony was an emotional time for Meyer, a 1993 graduate of Garner Magnet and a 1997 graduate of N.C. State. He served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He has experienced combat as the pilot of a Cobra attack helicopter.
He understand heroism better than most people. He honors veterans every day, not just on Veterans Day.
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“The Medal of Honor is our highest award, but every one of the recipients I’ve spoken with will tell you they know someone who deserves the medal more than they do,” Meyer said. “No one sets out to win the Medal of Honor. If you win one, you have been through a horrible experience.
“They accept the honor, not because they want it, but because they know our nation wants to show its appreciation to someone. They accept on behalf of all our military personnel.”
The ceremonies are one of Meyer’s most memorable moments from his two years serving as the U.S. Marine Corps Military Aide to the President of the United States. Meyer was in almost daily contact with President Barack Obama, often spending hours with the leader of the free world.
“The ceremony was special, knowing what these servants did for our country,” Meyer said.
But the most incredible experience he had while serving in the White House, he said, was visiting wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., with the POTUS, the President of the United States.
Seeing the wounded soldiers’ faces, hearing them speak, when the Commander in Chief made a personal visit was something that Meyer will never forget.
"To visit with those heroes, men and women who have been wounded while serving their country, and to see their reaction when the President of the United States comes to thank them for their service. That has to be the highlight, " Meyer said.
Serving in the White House, speaking hours in casual conversation with the President of the United States, was a surreal experience.
"The entire tour was really unbelievable. I wanted to pinch myself. At first, it was an out of body experience,” he said. “You keep reminding yourself that you have to keep everything together and you can’t show all these emotions that you are feeling.”
Each of the five branches of the U.S. military has a representative in the White House. When Meyer was named as the Marine Corps representative in 2012, he was told that for the next two years he was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I really realized that I was married when I told my wife that I couldn’t do something she wanted me to do because my President needed me ... and she said that wasn’t a good enough excuse,” said Meyer, who has been married for about a year.
‘Always so mature’
Meyer has been a part of the military since he enlisted in the Marines in May 1997, but former Garner classmate Vincent Wood, a nationally known mural artist, said Meyer has been a Marine ever since they went to school together at Vance Elementary.
“He was always so mature,” Wood said. “We’re young and crazy acting and Lee is already mature and thinking about his future. I wish I had a better word, but Lee has always been different, different in a good way.”
Wood and Meyer played baseball together and Wood remembers Meyer saying “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” to everyone, even his teammates.
“Lee slide over a little so I’ll have room to throw.”
“Yes sir.” Meyer would answer.
Wood’s most unforgettable moment with Meyer came when they played together on a recreation baseball team for 16 and 17 year olds. Wood pitched all 17 games that season and lost every one.
His best chance of winning a game disappeared when a ball rolled through the legs of outfielder Benji Meyer, Lee’s younger brother.
“All three runners scored. I was frustrated. I yelled at Benji when we got to the dugout,” Wood recalled
Lee Meyer was instantly in Wood’s face.
“He said, ‘Stand down, mister. You better stand down,’” Wood recalled. “I was stunned. Lee was always quiet, so respectful. You always knew that no one was going to be picked on if Lee was around. He wouldn’t stand for it.
“But for him to confront me like that was shocking. I still remember that day. I’ll tell you I stood down. I’ll stand down anytime Lee Meyer tells me to.”
Meyer played football at Garner and was noted for a toughness, although he wasn’t an outstanding player.
“The thing you got from Lee Meyer was everything that he had,” said former Garner coach Nelson Smith. “He wasn’t a great player, but he was a great young man. Very respectful. Dedicated. He was one that would try to do whatever you told him to do.”
Marine for life
Meyer was a member of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at N.C. State while he was earning his degrees in Agricultural Engineering and Biology.
He had wanted to be a Marine for most of his life. His father, Bill Meyer, had been a Marine and served in Vietnam.
“I thought I knew all about the Marines, but I had no idea of the leadership training,” he said. “That part was much tougher than I imagined.”
Meyer said he had heard the comments about the President that you probably would suspect. Some people love the President. Others do not.
“I’m like other Americans. I have my own political views. I express them once every four years in a voting booth,” he said. “Our country counts the ballots and we name the constitutionally appointed President of the United States.
“That’s who I serve for the next four years.”
Meyer is now based at Camp Lejeune Marine base, near Havelock.
He expects to remain in the Marine Corps for the foreseeable future.
“I’m like a lot of career Marines,” he said. “I expect I’ll stay in as long as I feel like I’m contributing. No one is irreplaceable, but I like to think I’m doing an important job, protecting our country.”