Being the recipient of the Medal of Honor makes former Army Capt. William Swenson a rare breed, but his request to return to active duty is not only uncommon, it may very well be unprecedented.
Swenson was awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony Tuesday for risking his life to assist fellow troops during a fierce battle in eastern Afghanistan in 2009, according to Fox News.
“Will and the soldiers in the center of the column are pinned down,” President Obama said as he described Swenson’s actions Tuesday. “Rocket propelled grenades, mortar, machine gun fire — all of this is pouring in from three sides. As he returns fire, Will calls for air support, but his initial requests are denied.”
“And then Will learns that his non-commissioned officer, Sergeant 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, has been shot in the neck,” Obama continues. “So Will breaks across 50 meters of open space, bullets biting all around. Lying on his back, he presses a bandage to Kenneth’s wounds with one hand, and calls for a medevac with the other, trying to keep his buddy calm.”
A video of Swenson’s actions, captured by an Army National Guard sergeant, shows him risking his life to care for his men and includes a touching moment as he kisses Westbrook on the forehead after loading him aboard a medevac helicopter.
Westbrook eventually succumbed to his wounds and his wife would later thank Swenson for helping keep him alive long enough so that she could say her final goodbyes, according to Fox News.
While being awarded America’s highest military honor was not as harrowing an experience as his actions on the battlefield, it proved to be a difficult process.
The Army would claim that Swenson’s application file was “lost” along the way, and it took the intervention of U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., to reinstate the process.
After the battle, Swenson bitterly complained about incompetence in the ranks, suggesting that his commanders decided the political risk of civilian casualties outweighed the need to protect the lives of Americans, Fox News reported.
As stated by Obama, Swenson’s initial requests for air support were denied and a year-and-a-half after the fight, two officers responsible for fielding Swenson’s requests for help were given career-ending reprimands.
“His record got deleted,” Hunter told Fox News in an interview Tuesday. “I mean, somebody went in and took his Medal of Honor nomination and deleted it from the awards database. That means that somebody in the Army did not want him to get the Medal of Honor.”
Not to be deterred, Swenson told Fox News Tuesday that while “you can have misunderstandings” and disagreements with individuals, “the institution cannot let you down.”
“The Army did not let me down,” he said.
As for a Medal of Honor recipient requesting to return to active duty, officials were unsure if that has ever happened before.