Helmet cam shows moment of compassion in war
WASHINGTON (NBC) -- It was an emotional afternoon at the White House as a former Army captain became the 79th living recipient of the Medal of Honor. U.S. Army Captain William Swenson was honored for his heroism and his complete disregard for his own safety. During one of the deadliest firefights in the war in Afghanistan, some of it was captured on camera. President Obama said Swenson is an example of what Americans can be at their very best.
It was September 2009. A medi-vac helicopter was on a casualty run in Aghanistan. Army Captain William D. Swenson guided the chopper to a landing, in one of the worst battles of the war.
“That was a horrible day,” Swenson said.
Swenson and his men walked into a deadly ambush.
“If you tried to get up and move, you could expect to have bullets licking at your feet,” said Swenson.
He led his troops as they repeatedly plunged into the kill zone to rescued the wounded and search for the missing - three Marines and a Navy Corps man.
“You can never allow a service member to be taken hostage, alive or dead. You bring them home and that is what we did,” said Swenson.
Swenson desperately radioed for help, but Army commanders refused to provide combat helicopters or reinforcements. An Army investigation later found those commanders were negligent, leading directly to the loss of life. The four missing Americans were later found dead.
“You could very clearly see that they had been putting up one hell of a fight,” said Swenson.
Swenson bitterly blames their death on tougher rules of engagement intended to protect Afghan civilians, not soldiers. But that day also saw a remarkable moment of compassion. A helmet cam captured Sgt. First Class Kenneth Westbrook being helped by Swenson to the medi-vac helicopter. In a flash, he gives him a kiss.
“I wanted to make it clear to him, he had done good. You’re going home,” said Swenson.
In an interview, Swenson said he was surprised to see himself do that, but said, “He was my soldier.”
When asked if he was glad he did it, Swenson said, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”