Four years after his heroic actions in Afghanistan saved lives during one of the most brutal battles since the war began. Former Army Captain William Swenson received the nation's highest award given to a military member. As our Brian Dwyer reports, Swenson is the first Medal of Honor recipient to have had his actions recorded for the nation to see.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Medal of Honor has been awarded some 3,500 times. Only six times has the recipient been alive to receive it. Only once has that person's actions been videotaped and released for people to see.
September of 2009, Captain William Swenson was embedded with the 10th Mountain's 3rd Brigade Combat Team as a training adviser. But a meeting of Afghan elders is ambushed. His team surrounded by 60 insurgents.
Tuesday, President Obama raved about Swenson and his actions after that ambush, before he placed the Medal of Honor around his neck.
"Moments like this. Americans like Will, remind us of what our country can be at its best," the President said.
By launching a grenade, Swenson ignores enemy demands to surrender. He splits his time tending to a soldier who'd been shot in the neck and coordinating a defense. He goes into fire to bring back that soldier, leaving him with a gentle kiss on the head.
But more Americans and more Afghans are still out there. Will and a Marine head back into danger, this time, in an unarmed Ford pickup truck.
"Twice they pick up injured Afghan soldiers" the President said recounting Swenson's story. "Bullets whizzing past them, slamming into the pickup truck. Twice they bring them back."
There was one other rescue trip in a humvee and a final one to the bodies of four missing Americans.
"When they reach the village, Will jumps out, drawing even more fire and dodging even more bullet, but they reach those Americans, lying where they fell. Will and others carry them out one by one. They bring their fallen brothers home," President said.
A fifth soldier died as a result of that battle, Sergeant First Class Kenneth Westbrook. He's the man that Swenson kissed on the forehead. Swenson's actions kept Westbrook alive for another month. It was 30 days Westbrook's wife wouldn't have had with her husband. It's something she thanks Captain William Swenson for every day.
While Swenson never served on Fort Drum and wasn't technically a 10th Mountain Division soldier, he requested to be recognized as a 10th Mountain soldier for Tuesday's events and the history books. And in a rare and maybe unprecedented move, Swenson has also asked to return to duty.
The Associated Press is reporting that Swenson has applied to return to active duty. He left the military in 2011, but that reports says officials think he shouldn't have much of a problem.