Oct. 17, 2013

Profiles of Valor: U.S. Army Capt. William D. Swenson

Swenson received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in battle in Afghanistan.

Retired U.S. Army Captain William D. Swenson received the Medal of Honor Tuesday for heroic actions in a battle in Afghanistan’s Ganjgal valley, near the Pakistan. Five American troops, 10 Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the battle four years ago. Swenson is the first living Army officer to receive the Medal since Vietnam, and is the sixth living recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Also, the Medal has been bestowed 3,500 times in the nation’s history, but this is the first time that the actions meriting the award were caught on video.

During the firefight, Swenson can be seen helping a wounded Sgt. Kenneth Westbrook to a helicopter, where Swenson kissed his head as he put him inside. Swenson later said of Westbrook, “He had broken bones, a bullet had gone into his chest. He was bleeding profusely. And he gets to walk off that battlefield on his own strength – with our support, but he gets to walk off that battlefield.” Swenson never saw Westbrook again; Westbrook died a month later at Walter Reed.

Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer also received the Medal for actions in that battle. Both Meyer and Swenson evacuated the dead and wounded under heavy fire. Swenson later issued a sworn statement criticizing the lack of artillery and air support during the battle despite repeated calls for help, and he then retired, believing his comments would haunt him. But two Army officers were reprimanded for being “inadequate and ineffective” and for “contributing directly to the loss of life.” Now, Swenson misses being a soldier and has asked to be reinstated to active duty.

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