by: Natasha Chen Updated:SEATTLE —
Retired Army Capt. William Swenson received the Medal of Honor at the White House Tuesday.
Swenson was given the nation’s highest military honor for his work during the Battle of Ganjgal in eastern Afghanistan, in late 2009.
Swenson’s mission was to help Afghan forces understand their American counterparts. That day, he was with a group meeting with village elders when they were attacked by about 50 Taliban insurgents.
“What went wrong - in war, one always has a plan. You have an expectation of what the outcome will be. On that day, the plan changed. The outcome changed,” Swenson said in a recent interview.
Video captured by cameras on the helmets of other soldiers shows Swenson bearing an orange panel marker to be seen by rescuers. But drawing attention to himself also put him at risk of enemy fire.
He went back several times to help injured soldiers, including Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who was shot and bleeding from the neck.
Westbrook eventually died.
“Could I have done anything different? No. But could I always hope that the outcome could have been different? Yeah. Hopefully nobody else ever has to feel that outcome. And that’s the important thing from that day. What we learned. How we move forward,” Swenson said.
President Obama mentioned during the ceremony that this was only the second time in 50 years that two people were given the Medal of Honor for the same battle.
In 2011, Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Ganjgal.
Since the 2009 battle, Meyer and Swenson have disagreed on their accounts of what happened.
Swenson also complained of lack of leadership support during the battle, which resulted in official reprimands for two other officers.
Swenson’s Medal of Honor is considered delayed, because the Army said that it had lost the initial paperwork. Swenson’s nomination had to be submitted a second time.
The Army told KIRO 7 that high turnover in personnel partly contributed to the mix-up in paperwork, which caused the delay.