Profile of a hero - Medal of Honor recipient CPT William Swenson

CNN/Swenson Family Photos
Military News
Monday, October 14, 2013 - 7:47pm

An American hero is being honored for his action in Afghanistan. Former Captain William Swenson will be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama during a ceremony on Tuesday.

It was a helicopter ride into the hell of war and the soul of Swenson, a Soldier who refused to leave anyone behind and spoke up to senior commanders when everything went wrong.

"What happened that day was a result of clouded judgment by people who later received letters of reprimand," said Swenson.

In a dreaded Afghan valley, four years ago, Swenson and his men were ambushed in one of the most brutal fire fights of the Afghan war. Swenson's said his men did not get urgently needed air support – a claim validated by the Army. Then his nomination file was said to be lost. Now, he is finally receiving the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest combat award.

It was early morning when the column of more than 100 U.S. and Afghan troops started up the valley’s narrow path. Enemy fire opened up from three sides.

"We are outnumbered, we are outgunned and we have taken casualties," said Swenson.

Sgt. First Class Kenneth Westbrook was shot in the throat and laying out in the open. Swenson recalled, "He called out to me and said I'm hit and he wasn't panicked, there was no indication of pain. I said okay hold on i can't get to you I am pinned down keep fighting."

Swenson then ran across open ground, dodging enemy fire, to get him. Sgt. Kevin Duerst was crew chief of the medevac helicopter going to get the wounded.

Duerst recalled, “He was completely under control of the whole situation; he knew exactly what had to be done and when."

In video recorded using a helmet mounted camera, Swenson was seen flashing an orange panel so the helicopter could find him, but it made him an enemy target at the same time.
Swenson and a medic helped Westbrook to the helicopter.

Then, in a moment amid the mayhem, Swenson gently kisses Westbrook goodbye. Swenson has no memory of it. "I believe i was just trying to keep his spirits up and let him know he was going to be okay. I wanted him to be know he had done his job but it was time for him to go," Swenson said.

He was determined to get everyone out. He went back into the battle with others still under fire to find and take bring out the bodies of dead Americans and Afghan fighters. Sgt. Westbrook died a few weeks later.

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