President Obama gives former U.S. Army Capt. William Swenson the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Saying “America is grateful for you,” President Obama awarded the nation’s highest military honor on Tuesday to former Army Capt. William Swenson.
The Medal of Honor is the first given to an Army officer since the Vietnam War. President Obama said Swenson braved seven hours of continuous fighting, putting his life in danger multiple times to help fallen and wounded service members, as well as his Afghan partners.
NPR’s Scott Horsley filed this report for our Newscast unit:
“Obama called Swenson ‘a remarkable role model for all of us.’
“Captain Swenson received the honor for heroism during the Battle of Ganjgal, one of the costliest battles of the Afghan War. Five Americans were killed along with 10 Afghan security forces and an interpreter. Obama said Swenson repeatedly risked his own life during the firefight to rescue others and to recover the bodies of the fallen.
“As one of his fellow soldiers later said, ‘Will did things that nobody else would ever do,’ Obama said. ‘And he did it for his guys and everybody else on the ground — to get them out.’
“Swenson later complained about the lack of air and artillery support during the battle — claims that were upheld by a military investigation. His Medal of Honor comes two years after a Marine sergeant received the same award for heroism in the same battle.”
As Stars and Stripes puts it, this award was a long time coming for Swenson. The paper reports:
“That’s because Swenson’s heroism at the Battle of Ganjgal in September 2009 has already been overshadowed by the mistakes of his superiors and bureaucratic delays. The former soldier waited more than four years for his recognition, much to the chagrin of his friends and military advocates.
“Swenson, who left the Army in 2011, is the sixth living Medal of Honor recipient for action in Afghanistan, and the second for that fight in the Ganjgal Valley. Former Marine Dakota Meyer was awarded the medal two years ago for his part of that fight, dodging gunfire in another part of the steep terrain before meeting up with Swenson for the final push against the enemy.
“Swenson declined media interviews in the lead-up to the White House ceremony and has been mostly silent since the battle. In an Army release, he called the medal an honor for ‘those I served with’ and ‘my family and my teammates.’ ”
Swenson, who is described as a cool-under-pressure kind of guy, was visibly moved during the ceremony at the White House.
“Will Swenson was there for his brothers,” Obama said. “We thank God patriots like him are there to protect us.”