Medal of Honor recipient gets apology from defense chief over delay

By Becca Clemons

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel apologized Wednesday to retired Army Capt. William Swenson, the most recent Medal of Honor recipient, for mistakes that delayed Swenson's award.

Hagel said mistakes were made in losing Swenson’s nomination and that the Army had corrected its error. Hagel spoke during a ceremony at the Pentagon inducting Swenson into the Hall of Heroes, a day after Swenson was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama at the White House for his selfless actions during the Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2009.

"We're sorry that you and your family had to endure through that, but you did and you handled it right," Hagel said. "And I think that deserves a tremendous amount of attention and credit."

The Army has said that the error was because of a turnover in personnel, though critics say it had more to do with the controversy Swenson created when he complained to military leaders after the battle was over that many of his calls for help had been rejected by superior officers. The Army conducted an investigation, and two Army officers were reprimanded.

Hagel on Thursday noted Swenson's courage in questioning leaders' decisions.

"He questioned - he dared to question the institution that he was faithful to and loyal to," Hagel said. "Mistakes were made, in his case. Now, that's courage and that's integrity and that's character."

The secretary of the Army, John McHugh, issued a directive Wednesday that requires all future Medal of Honor nominations be sent immediately to the Army Human Resources Command.

"As soon as an honors packet is created at battalion level, we will have immediate visibility at Army headquarters," McHugh said during his remarks at Thursday's ceremony.

"Our heroes have always taught us many things, and that's true here, today," he added. "Sometimes our heroes teach us how to make ourselves better. And Will, for that as well, I - we all - want to thank you."