Obama Gives William D. Swenson Medal of Honor

The president extends the nation's highest military honor to former Army Captain.
3:00 | 10/15/13

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Transcript for Obama Gives William D. Swenson Medal of Honor
This is a special room. Again that's our New York with this ABC news digital special report is the nation's highest military award the medal of honor. And President Obama is set -- -- shortly at a White House ceremony. Let's go to the White House now the president is making its way in but first. A bit behind the gentleman that will receive the honor September 8 2009 a seven hour long firefight in a remote Afghan province. You can see army captain William Swenson in this medevac chopper video with the red scarf. Risking his life to get has fallen and injured Brothers -- the helicopter at one point in fact. He leans in he kissed the forehead of Sargent first class -- at Westbrook. Later -- Swenson is now retired from the military. He is the first army officer to receive the dollar since the Vietnam War. And that ceremony is about to begin with prayer taking place right now the White House let's listen. Measure devotion given that day. The medal of monitors draped around captain Swenson. Made healing grace of hope and peace rests upon each Abbas. -- questions example we can -- -- the spirit of sacrifice. And steadfastness of purpose. This occasion renew our commitment to uphold the right to oppose the wrong and continue to work. That -- begun so long ago. This we ask you -- your holy name and then. -- -- -- right please have a seat. On behalf of Michelle and myself. Welcome to the White House. -- last month. The united states army released a remarkable piece of video. It's from the combat helmet cameras. Medevac helicopter crew and Afghanistan. And -- shaky and it's grainy but it takes us to the front lines that our troops. Face every single day and it's useful to remember that there's still a whole lot of our troops in Afghanistan. In harm's way. In that video there is that helicopter. Touches down by a remote village. You see out of a cloud of dust and American -- -- without his helmet. Standing in the open. Exposing himself to enemy fire. Standing watch over a severely wounded soldier. He helps carry that wounded soldier to the helicopter and places them in sought. And then -- Mets. The whipping wind and the deafening roar of the helicopter blades. He does something unexpected he believes that and kisses the wounded soldier on the head. The simple act of compassion and loyalty. To a brother in arms. And as the door closes them helicopter takes off he turns and goes back to where -- came back into the heat of battle. It on our nation's history we -- present and our highest military decoration. The metal bar nearly. 3500. Times for actions above and beyond the call of duty. But this -- -- the first time -- we can actually bear witness to a small fraction of those actions. For ourselves and today we honor the American in that video. The soldier who went back in. Captain William Schwartz. Not far away that there was then corporal Dakota Meyer to whom we presented the medal Bonner two years ago. Today is only the second time in nearly half a century. That the metal bomber has been awarded to two survivors. Of the same battle. Dakota is not here today but I want to welcome some of the soldiers and Marines. Who fought alongside both these men and the families of those who gave their lives that day. I -- welcome all of our distinguished guests including members of the medal of honor. Society. Whose ranks today grow by one moral. Most of all -- want welcome wills. Wonderful parents. Julian and Carl. -- girlfriend Kelsey. Had a chance to visit -- them. Both -- and Julie are former college professor so instead of a house for GI -- will grow from Seattle surrounded by educational games. I'm told -- that. Even when lol well was little his mom I was always a stickler for grammar. Towards making sure he said to whom considered to -- -- I'm going to be very careful today. I just had a chance. Spend some time -- them and I'd say well is a pretty low key guy his idea of a good time. Here's the big ceremony like this -- he'd rather be somewhere in the mountains -- on -- trail surrounded by cedar trees instead of cameras but I bring her nation needs this ceremony today. The moments like this. Americans like well. Remind us what our country can be at its best. A nation of citizens who look out for one another. Who meet our obligations to one another not just weren't easy but also when it's or. Maybe especially when it's -- Well you're an example to everyone in this city. And to our whole country. The professionalism and patriotism that we should strive for whether we Wear the uniform or not. Not just on. Particular occasions but all the time. Here for those who aren't familiar -- you. The story of the battle. That led will to be here today I want take you back to that. September -- four years ago it's around sunrise. A column of Afghan soldiers and their American advisors are winding their way up the narrow trail towards ability to meet -- dollars. But just as the first soldier reaches the outskirts of the village. All hell breaks -- Almost instantly for Americans three Marines one navy at the front of the column are surrounded. How will and the soldiers in the center of the column are pinned down. Rocket propelled grenades mortar. Machine gun fire all of this is pouring in from three sides. As he returned -- will calls for air support but his initial requests are not will and his team are too close to the village. And then will learns that his non commission officer Sargent first class -- Westbrook has been shot in the -- So well breaks across fifty meters of open space Boortz. -- all around. Lying on his back he presses a bandage to -- swarms with one hand and calls for medevac with the other try to keep his body call. By this time -- -- -- even closer just -- Or thirty meters away and over the radio they're demanding the Americans to surrender. Will stop treating -- long enough to respond by lobbing a grenade. And finally after more than an hour and a half of fighting air -- writes -- directs them to nearby targets. That it's time to move so exposing himself again enemy fire will helps -- kept. The length more than two football fields down steep terraces. To that helicopter. And then in the moment captured by those cameras will leans in to say goodbye. But more Americans are more Afghans are still out there so willed us something incredible he jumps behind the wheel of an on -- Ford Ranger pickup truck. A marine gets in the passenger seat and they drive that truck. As a vehicle designed for the highway straight into the battle. Twice they pick up injured Afghan soldiers. Bullets whizzing past them slamming into the pick -- truck. Twice they bring them back. When the truck gives -- they grab a humvee. The marine by will side has no idea how they survive but he says by that time it didn't matter. We weren't gonna leave any soldiers behind. Finally a helicopter response those four missing Americans hours after they were trapped in the open ambush so. We'll gets another humvee with a crew that includes Dakota Meyer. And together they drive past enemy fighters up. Through the valley exposed once more when they reached the village will jumps out -- even more fire dodging even more bullets. But very reach those Americans line where they felt. -- -- others carry them out one by one. They bring their fallen Brothers home. -- scripture tells us the greatest among your -- be your service. Kept -- -- Swanson was a leader on that September morning. But like all great leaders he was also -- To the -- he commanded. To the more than a dozen Afghans and Americans whose lives he saved. To the families of those. Who gave their last full measure of devotion on that -- Wakefield. As one of his fellow soldiers later said. Will do things -- nobody else would ever do and he did it for his guys and verbally on the ground to get them out. That's why after -- Caldwell to tell him he'd be receiving this medal one of the first things he did was to invite. To this ceremony those who fought alongside and I like all of those who served. With such valor alongside world both army and Marines who fought for each other please stand and be recognize. Thank you. Will also reached out to the families. Of the four Americans who gave their lives that day. -- them he wrote. I'm quoting well now we have never met we've never spoken. But I would like to believe that I know something bodies are viewed through the actions of your loved ones on that day. There were part of -- team and you are now part of that team. So I would ask the members of this team. The families of first lieutenant Michael Johnson. Gunnery sergeant Edward Johnson. Henry Sargent Aaron. Can -- -- And hospital 13 class James Layton as well -- family of Kenneth Westbrook to please. -- it was a soldier will delivered to the safety of that helicopter. After being airlifted out animated. Walt three. You start -- rehab and spent time -- his wife Charlene who joins us here today. She still remembers the first time she spoke to well when he called from Afghanistan check him on kept. Soon after that phone call our -- took her turn for the worse he succumbed to complications from his treatment. But. And experts say -- Charlayne will always be grateful for. The final day she was able to spend with her husband. And even now -- -- rarely goes by when will those caller tax checking in with Charlene. And heard reports. That's the kind of man he has. Charlie says about what you don't have to ask wolf for help he just knows when to be there for you. So -- Swanson was there for his Brothers he was there for their families. As a nation we thank god the patriots like him are there for us all. So well god bless you and all the men you fought alongside. -- interview done for us. God bless all our men and women in uniform. And god bless the United States -- that I'd like my military to read this I think. The president of the United States of America authorized by act of congress march 3. 1863. Has awarded in the name of congress the medal of honor to. Captain William. Captain William. PDT at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While serving as -- that advisor to the Afghan national border police task force Phoenix combined security transition command Afghanistan in support of first battalion. 32 infantry regiment. Third brigade combat team. Tenth mountain division during combat operations and gets an arm and any -- and our province Afghanistan on September 82009. On that morning more than sixty well armed. Well positioned enemy fighters ambushed captains Clinton's comment team as it moved on foot into the village -- got a -- for a meeting with village elders. As -- -- unleashed a barrage of rocket propelled grenades mortar and machine gunfire. Captain -- immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response and his Afghan border police while simultaneously calling its oppressive artillery fire and aviation support. After the -- effectively flank coalition forces captain -- repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the -- elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces -- effective and accurate fire. Captain -- -- needed air assets indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. Captain -- ignored -- any radio transmissions demanding surrender in the New Britain uncovered to render medical aid to wounded fellow soldier. Captains Clinton stopped administering -- long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces before assisting -- -- soldier for air evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety campaigns let's move on hesitating only that it -- and an -- armored 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 -- fallen and wounded comrades. It became clear that -- recovery of the fawn was required due to heavy enemy fire and helicopter landing zones. -- Clinton's team returned to the kill zone another time in a humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily accidentally vehicle exposing himself to enemy fire to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one -- navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and style resistance against the enemy during sixty hours of continuous fighting railing his teammates and effectively disrupted the Anthony's -- Get and will Indies Clinton's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty. Are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service reflect great credit upon himself. Task force Phoenix first battalion 32 infantry regiment third brigade combat -- Tenth mountain division. And the united states army. -- -- -- -- god we ask your blessing to rest upon Austin is today. We -- important piece. By but the actions of courageous and good people. We follow the example set by captain Swenson and his team. -- -- people of valor. Ready when the cause for which we have given -- while confronts us. -- strength to live through troubled times. Fill us with grace equal to every need. And grant us the wisdom and the will to do justice. To love mercy and walk humbly. This we ask you break your holy. Man. Well let me say once again not only -- -- but all our men and women in uniform. Who have served us with such. Incredible courage. And professionalism. That America's grateful for you. To the family's. Of those we've lost we will never forget. You are -- are remarkable role model for all us and we're very grateful for your service. We are gonna have a reception after this I hear the food's pretty good around here. And so I hope all we have a chance to -- and those who have Chester say -- it will personally obviously. That's very welcome I'm going to be -- sitting with where -- Michelle first. We'll take a couple pictures but enjoy yourselves this afternoon jobless -- -- Leaving with captain Swenson retired from the military. He is the first army officer to receive the medal of honor since the Vietnam War. Very touching but very strong ceremony today. See there secretary of defense Chuck Hagel among some of the dignitaries and family and friends that look at -- for today's ceremony at the White House. I want to bring in ABC news digital correspondent pentagon -- Martinez to shed some light on this story. This gentleman -- has the details behind his actions that day are truly -- -- -- They really aren't and you have hit me this army officer at the -- column. The rear of a column has just come under a big ambush as did this as sixty US troops and Afghan troops went into a village to try to engage local elders. And instead they're sprung up -- And you end up with the head of -- column being pinned down from most of about a five hour battle. And Swenson and at the Riordan leaves everything you organizes your it's Hillary that eventually Condit took ninety minutes for -- artillery. To -- and assist. The US troops pinned down in this battle. And then he guides the helicopters telling the morning go where to attack the Taliban fighters are pinning them down. And then he goes and rescues is squad -- you heard very Kenneth Westbrook. Who eventually died from his wounds but when he was there he rescued and brought him back carried him about 200 yards to safety over terrorist. Farm fields. And then eventually lowers him onto -- medevac helicopter and there's video that the president spoke about. Where you can see him very quickly after he -- is among a helicopter he gives him a kiss on the forehead. Wishing him good by -- speed and then what does he do he runs back to the front. Gets in a vehicle along with several other the American troops that are there that day. In search of those American forces there were pinned down at the front eventually find them -- recover their remains and bring them back. And then you have this heroic action that has now resulted in two medal honors Dakota Meyer winning his -- his excuse me two years ago. And today army captain tells us receiving it. It is truly amazing Louis and you -- at the details of this story from that day and you can imagine in your mind just the scene there but because the fact that there is that video that was available it really brings to life. Just the death that he had to go to. To get that kind of courage to get that kind of of resolute. That so many people might not be able to have themselves. You know it's interesting and he talked about he never really knew that this video existed for that matter is the widow -- second Westbrook didn't know existed. Until the helicopter pilots who had helmet cams on the top of their helmets. On gave it to her earlier this year and you get a feel for what's going on you see you see the landscape. You see this is a river valley. Where eventually they'll landing zone is created where Swenson and he's waiting in Orange marker. -- so that the pilots know where to find them they land he loads the helicopter. But what the camera doesn't show is what happens after that. Which is of course that he -- and runs it back into the fire along with other American church in search of their fallen colleagues. Who eventually -- eighteenth two or three. I'm searching any vehicles. Looking for them and one point the vehicle at their under gets so destroyed that they -- go back further interior and crab another line. And another one idea. So it's it's a lot of heroism and you look at this -- you look at this. The terrain and it is so -- it is so exposed. You wonder how anyone could survive something like this and this is just the rugged terrain -- on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And you just getting a good idea for how tough this battle really was and how extended on the battlefield it really was. Because the helicopters are planning a relative safety because they're out of the range of the gunfire from the Taliban fighters. But after that video pulls out you know exactly. That the American troops are headed back in their into the fight to look for their fallen comrades in fact captain Swenson to create some controversy in fact criticizing. Some of his superiors. Offer failing to provide enough air and artillery support that. Swenson has been very candid and he was -- with is superior year's -- right after that battle. He said that the delay in providing artillery or air cover to his forces was a result. Of the commands from the General McChrystal the protecting citizens yet again population -- population. He said that it was those in new restrictions it basically. Put his troops at greater risk -- during that firefight. And he blamed the superiors back in the operations center who's who overruled his request for artillery. Well eventually those requests those of those criticisms are heated and -- follow on investigation determined that you superior officers did need to be reprimanded. For their decisions that -- that result in a greater loss of life. Eyes once in this case now you may notice comes two years after Dakota Myers received his medal of honor for this ceremony. And that is because the army lost his paperwork. Of those submissions for the -- moderate -- pretty much presented around the same time Myers -- process because it went through the proper channels. A later investigation determined that Swenson paperwork was just totally lost over there and Afghanistan. Because there was a turnover staffs in realize what had happened and it wasn't until it was brought the attention on general John Allen the new commander in Afghanistan a year and a half later. That his case received -- proper. Close as staffing and recognition and eventually resulting in -- -- his case is pretty extraordinary not just for the heroism for for the fact the back story. -- -- he and probably deserve this a long time ago. But now he's getting these cheap credit and credit that certainly cannot come and a big enough form showing that amount -- bravery. And thorough system. Louis Martinez at the Pentagon Louis thank you for that and we do you have a complete report -- biography on army captain William -- having been the recipient. Of the medal of honor. And a White House there. And on Dan -- New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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