Medal of Honor recipient: 'It is a privilege to be a soldier'
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Retired Army Capt. William Swenson of Seattle, awarded the Medal of Honor last year for his valor in Afghanistan in 2009, was honored again Tuesday by the entire state Senate.
State Sen. Steve O'Ban sponsored the resolution to recognize Capt. Swenson for his bravery and selflessness.
After an introduction by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and long standing ovation, Capt. Swenson elicited a roar of laughter as he stepped to the microphone and said he'd better raise it up to speak. Swenson is considerably taller than Owen.
At ease in front of the crowd, Capt. Swenson gave senators a personal message: "Washington state, as I continually have to remind an East Coaster, is Washington state. This is my home, this is where my heart is - this is what I fight for. You take care of it."
Capt. Swenson says it's his responsibility to deliver this message.
"I get to tell a story about my service members, my team, and in the future I get to continue their legacy. And I get to bring attention to sometimes, unfortunately, undervalued service that our service members provide," Swenson said
He found himself in this position for his valor in Afghanistan.
More than 100 U.S. and Afghan troops were in a seven-hour battle, dodging enemy fire from three sides. Several soldiers were shot, including Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook.
Refusing to leave anyone behind, Capt. Swenson drew attention to himself, holding an orange panel out to guide medics in to evacuate the wounded. Though Swenson successfully got Westbrook out of there, he died three weeks later.
"It's not the individual action that I performed - it's the action that all of us perform. Every service member has the capability of rising to the threshold of Medal of Honor. Not one service member wants to," Swenson said.
Capt. Swenson is now retired from the Army but still thrust into the spotlight, receiving honors like the one the state Senate bestowed up on him.
And he uses these instances to remind others that there are still veterans serving, that many do return home in need of help.
"The American people have come to understand that PTSD is something that will affect somebody for life. That is simply untrue," Swenson says.
He says people certainly carry experiences and their history with them for life. But just like any injury, Swenson says he believes PTSD can be cured.
When asked if he see this as a privilege or a burden, Swenson said, "All responsibilities in the military are a privilege. It is a privilege to be a soldier."
What lies ahead for this decorated, now retired soldier? Unable to answer that question right now, Capt. Swenson remarked about all the snow his home state has gotten lately and said he simply plans to enjoy it.