In one of too many sorry spectacles still playing out in the wake of our misbegotten wars, retired U.S. Army Capt. William Swenson was awarded the Medal of Honor this week, long after his 2009 rescue of wounded U.S. and Afghan soldiers during a deadly and controversial battle in the Ganjgal Valley.
Swenson's road to the status of war hero was more nuanced and sorrowful than some: It's been almost four years since he bitterly blasted higher-ups for both failing to provide support and telling a false narrative about the battle; since his award nomination was mysteriously "lost" after his public criticism; and since video from medevac helicopter pilots' helmet cameras, an ongoing McClatchy investigation, and reports from several other sources all disputed the vastly different story of Ganjgal told by the high-profile Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer - who was also awarded the medal in 2011, wrote a best-selling book about the battle, and is now considering a run for Congress, a move applauded by his 24,000 Twitter followers. In part thanks to the publicity surrounding Meyer's tale of glory, there's even a video game about Ganjgal.
Swenson, meanwhile, is unemployed, and spends much of his time alone in the mountains. Though he calls his military experience a "Pyrrhic victory," he unexpectedly, recently said he's thinking about re-enlisting. The most unforgettable moment in the harrowing, newly revealed medevac video shows Swenson hurriedly, tenderly kissing the forehead of Sgt. Kenneth Westbrook, a wounded soldier he'd hauled safely to the helicopter, before rushing back to battle; Westbrook later died. Swenson says he doesn't remember doing it.