The actions of the first U.S. Army officer to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War have been captured in rare helmet-cam video.
William Swenson, a former Army captain, was presented with the military’s highest award for valor Tuesday during a ceremony at the White House for his “extraordinary heroism” in a deadly, seven-hour firefight in Afghanistan in 2009. Dakota Meyer, a former Marine corporal, in 2011 received the Medal of Honor for the same battle.
On Sept. 8, 2009, Swenson, then an adviser to the Afghan border police, was leading a team of U.S. and Afghan forces into the Ganjgal valley near the Pakistan border to meet with village elders when they were ambushed by more than 60 Taliban fighters. In the ensuing firefight, five Americans, 10 Afghan army troops and an interpretor were killed.
Swenson is credited with risking his life to help a fellow soldier to a UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopter and retrieve the bodies of fallen U.S. troops. As President Barack Obama noted during the ceremony, some of the action was caught on cameras mounted to the helmets of the helicopter crew members.
While the Medal of Honor has been awarded almost 3,500 times in history, Obama said the video “may be the first time that we can actually bear witness to a small fraction of those actions for ourselves.”
The less than five minutes of footage captures the dramatic moment when Swenson leans down to kiss the head of Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who had been shot. He would die less than a month later of complications from a blood transfusion.
The video, which has been posted to YouTube, was made available courtesy of Westbrook’s widow, Charlene.