At the White House on Tuesday afternoon, a collection of family, friends, and soldiers gathered in the East Room to celebrate the most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor, former Army captain William Swenson.
Swenson, age 34, became the first living Army officer to receive the award in more than forty years. Additionally, Swenson became the sixth living recipient of the nation’s highest award for bravery in combat from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Medal of Honor ceremony was emotional for the family of Swenson, as well as many of the attendees in the audience. President Obama outlined Swenson’s accomplishments, noting that he led his troops through a rescue mission to recover fallen comrades in Afghanistan in 2009.
Raw video released last month by the Army shows Swenson in Afghanistan during the Battle of Ganjal Gar confronting enemy fire while helping his wounded friend, First Sgt. Kenneth Westbrook, into a Medevac helicopter.
“He helps carry that wounded soldier to the helicopter and helps place him inside and then in the midst the whipping wind and deafening roar he does something unexpected,” President Obama remarks on Swenson’s actions, “He leans in and kisses the wounded soldier on the head: a simple act of compassion and loyalty to a brother-in-arms.”
Sgt. Westbrook died from his injuries almost a month later.
According to the Pentagon, the most recent recipient of the highest military honor was responsible for saving at least twelve lives during the mission. Swenson joins fellow Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sergeants Clint Romesha and Ty Carter for their bravery in Afghanistan.
“Americans like Will remind us what our country can be at its best,” President Obama said, “a nation of citizens who look out for one another, who meet our obligations to one another, not just when its easy, but also when it is hard.”