(THE WASHINGTON POST) -- It was a tender moment that demonstrates the brotherhood of the U.S. servicemen who fought for their lives in a remote Afghanistan province four years ago. In the heat of battle, Army Capt. William Swenson leaned in and kissed the head of his severely wounded comrade while loading him into an evacuation helicopter.
On Tuesday, President Obama cited that moment, captured on a video taken by a medevac crewman, as he presented Swenson, 34, with the Medal of Honor for his service during the battle in the Ganjgal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Swenson, who has since left the military, is credited with risking his life to help save his fellow troops and Afghan allies and retrieve the bodies of four Americans who were killed on Sept. 8, 2009.
“Amidst the whipping wind and the deafening roar of the helicopter blades, he does something unexpected. He leans in and kisses the wounded soldier on the head — a simple act of compassion and loyalty to a brother in arms,” Obama said of Swenson during the ceremony before 250 guests, including Vice President Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, first lady Michelle Obama and several previous medal recipients.
Obama noted that of the nearly 3,500 times the country has awarded the medal, the video of Swenson “may be the first time that we can actually bear witness to a small fraction of those actions for ourselves.”
Swenson, of Seattle, did not speak during the White House ceremony. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said he had no memory of kissing the head of Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who had been shot in the cheek and shoulder, until he saw the video earlier this year.
“You could have told me it happened, and I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said in one of his first extended interviews since the battle. “But it did, and it was captured on film. And it offered a glimpse of the humanity that does occur on battlefields.”
Swenson’s path to the White House ceremony has been a rocky one. After he criticized his Army superiors for failing to provide enough air and artillery support, his medal nomination was delayed for years. Army officials said they lost his packet in the computer system for 19 months.
Though Swenson became the second service member to accept the medal for the Ganjgal battle, the previous winner, former Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer, was not in attendance. Swenson has expressed skepticism about the accuracy of Meyer’s account of the battle.
Two other Marines, Ademola Fabayo and Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, who helped Swenson and Meyer in the rescue missions, attended Swenson’s ceremony. They both have received the Navy Cross for their actions.
During the interview with The Post, Swenson said he would accept the medal in honor of the fellow soldiers and Marines with whom he fought, along with family members of those who died.
“It does not really belong to me; it belongs to that event and the people I stood with,” he said of the medal. “I’ll be thinking of everyone in that valley who gave more than could be expected of anybody.” Continue reading via The Washington Post...