Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel apologized today for the delay in the Medal of Honor awarded to Army Capt. William Swenson, whose paperwork was mysteriously lost after he criticized senior officers for their lack of fire support in the battle for which he was honored.
Swenson’s Medal of Honor award ceremony at the White House yesterday was followed by an event at the Pentagon today.
“Many important words have been said about Will Swenson, appropriately so, over the last few days. One particular point that President Obama made yesterday was that at a time in our country when we need more unifying dimensions and dynamics to remind us who we are, yes, as a great nation, but, even more importantly, as a good people. The Will Swenson story does that. It does remind us who we are — sacrifice, service, going beyond your own personal ambitions, your own personal interests, and serving the interests of others first,” Hagel said.
Swenson, who was serving as a trainer for Afghan soldiers, entered the kill zone numerous times during the September 2009 Battle of Ganjgal to rescue wounded Americans and Afghans, a nearly seven-hour firefight in which four Americans died.
In the subsequent investigation, Swenson was a vocal critic of the lack of support sent to his unit.
His nomination paperwork that vanished was resubmitted in 2011.
“Yes, Will Swenson proved his valor on the battlefield. It is well documented. It should be well documented. But he also did something else that represented tremendous courage and integrity. And I’ve always thought the two indispensable elements of anyone’s life are courage and character. And if we’re without those in some measure, it’s a pretty hollow existence,” Hagel said.
“He questioned — he dared to question the institution that he was faithful to and loyal to. Mistakes were made, in his case. Now, that’s courage and that’s integrity and that’s character. As the institution itself reflected on that same courage and integrity institutionally, the institution, the United States Army, corrected the mistake. They went back and acknowledged a mistake was made and they fixed it,” he continued.
“Another great dimension of our republic, of our people, we have an inherent capability to self-correct. Free people have that capability if they have the will and the courage to self-correct. And we all do in our own personal lives. Institutions don’t always. Eventually they will be forced to. In this case, the United States Army was not forced to. It did self-correct. It was a wrong. They corrected it. They fixed it. We’re sorry that you and your family had to endure through that, but you did and you handled it right. And I think that deserves a tremendous amount of attention and credit.”
Swenson left the Army in 2011 but has since requested a return to active duty.