During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with the Battle of Ganjgal in Kunar Provice, Afghanistan, on Sept. 8, 2009, where Capt. William D. Swenson coordinated the counterattack in an ambush that claimed the lives of five American servicemen.
William D. Swenson’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Capt. William D. Swenson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as embedded advisor to the Afghan National Border Police, Task Force Phoenix, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan in support of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
“On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Capt. Swenson’s combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and machine gun fire, Capt. Swenson immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police, while simultaneously calling in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support.
“After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Capt. Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Capt. Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support, and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded.
“Capt. Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier. Capt. Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, before assisting with moving the soldier for air evacuation.
“With complete disregard for his own safety, Capt. Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones.
“Capt. Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Capt. Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman.
“His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy’s assault. Capt. William D. Swenson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army.”
The service members whose bodies were recovered by Swenson and others were First Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunner Sgts. Aaron Kenefick and Edwin Johnson, and Navy Corpsman Third Class James Layton. Swenson also risked his life to save Sgt. First Class Kenneth Westbrook, who survived the battle but died a month later. Nine Afghan National Security Force personnel also died during the ambush.
Swenson received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on Oct. 15, 2013.
“The value of an award is truly what we as a nation put into it, what we value it as,” Swenson said after receiving the medal. “This award is earned with a team, a team of our finest Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and our Afghan partners, standing side by side. Now that team includes Gold Star families who lost their fathers, sons, and husbands that day. This medal represents them, it represents us.”
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