Army captain, hailed as a hero, also sees vindication.
WASHINGTON – Four years after he survived a brutal firefight in a remote Afghanistan valley that claimed the lives of five Americans, retired U.S. Army Capt. William Swenson will be hailed as a hero at the White House on Tuesday.
Swenson, 34, is credited with risking his life to help save his fellow troops and recover their bodies, feats that President Obama will recount when he presents Swenson with the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor.
But for Swenson, the award stands for more than his personal bravery during the seven-hour battle in the Ganjgal valley, near the Pakistan border, on Sept. 8, 2009. It is also a measure of vindication.
After returning from the battlefield, Swenson engaged in a lengthy and bitter dispute with the military over the narrative of one of the Afghan war’s most notorious firefights.
The questions he raised resulted in reprimands for two officers and what he believes was an effort by the Army to discredit him. His account also cast doubt on the exploits of another Medal of Honor winner from the same battle, Dakota Meyer of the Marine Corps.
United in war, the two men have taken far different paths since. Meyer has found celebrity and success, with a book and a personal assistant, boosted by a story that Swenson considers an inflated and misleading account of that harrowing day.
Swenson — the first Army officer since Vietnam to win the medal — has been unemployed since leaving the service in 2011. He is single and lives in Seattle, escaping often to the mountains to find solitude in “my forced early retirement.”
“Are you familiar with Pyrrhic victories?” Swenson said in a recent interview. “That’s what I specialize in.”
Ganjgal remains one of the costliest battles of the 12-year Afghan conflict. In addition to the five U.S. deaths, 10 Afghan army fighters and a translator also were killled, while more than two dozen coalition troops were injured.