Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama honored a former U.S. Army captain on Tuesday after a long dispute that saw the soldier’s nomination for the Medal of Honor stalled for years.
Captain William Swenson, 34, received America’s highest military decoration at an emotional White House ceremony that follows a protracted argument over what happened in a ferocious battle four years ago in eastern Afghanistan.
Swenson, clad in a dark blue dress uniform, fought back tears as Obama paid tribute to fallen comrades who the officer tried to save after an ambush on September 8, 2009.
The Medal of Honor citation praises Swenson’s “extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty” for risking his life repeatedly to rescue wounded soldiers and retrieve American troops killed on the battlefield.
Obama portrayed Swenson as a man of compassion, describing a recently released video from helicopter pilots that shows the Army captain helping a seriously wounded soldier onto a chopper.
“And then amidst the whipping wind and the deafening roar of the helicopter blades, he does something unexpected,” Obama said.
“He leans in and kisses the wounded soldier on the head. A simple act of compassion and loyalty to a brother in arms.”
Swenson is only the sixth living recipient to be given the Medal of Honor for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
He was nominated for the Medal of Honor in December 2009, but Army officials said his paperwork was “lost.”
His nomination was resubmitted in July 2011 by the then commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen.
Swenson’s supporters allege commanders tried to discredit him and deny him the medal because he complained to military investigators that repeated requests for air strikes and artillery fire went unheeded.
The circumstances of the delayed decoration are now the subject of a Pentagon investigation.