Since the Medal of Honor was created as the nation's highest military award for bravery in 1861, fewer than 3,600 medals have been awarded. Now, there are plans to create a museum dedicated to the men and one woman who've received it. James Rosen speaks with a recent recipient of the medal, whose gallantry was caught on camera.
President Obama: As the helicopter touches down by a remote village, you see out of a cloud of dust an American soldier. He's without his helmet, standing in the open, exposing himself to enemy fire, standing watch over a severely wounded soldier.
James Rosen: In 2013, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to army captain William Swenson for his bravery in Afghanistan, four years earlier, at the battle of Ganjgal. A 6-hour ambush near the Pakistani border that killed 12-coalition troops, wounded 18-more.
Lt. Col. William Swenson: When you're talking about combat, you never actually end up telling the full story in one go. You are telling the story probably for the remainder of the time you're alive. And that's your responsibility, because the people that you served with who didn't come back, that's a way of keeping them alive.
James: Sergeant First-Class Kenneth Westbrook was shot in the neck that day. Captain Swenson carried Westbrook the length of two football fields, loaded him onto a medevac chopper, and, in a spontaneous display of compassion, gave his wounded comrade a kiss on the head. Westbrook made it back to American soil, but died a month later at Walter Reed.
President Obama: Will did things that nobody else would ever do. And he did it for his guys and everybody on the ground to get them out.
James: Swenson was the first army officer to receive the nation's highest military decoration since the Vietnam War. And the first ever to have his combat heroics captured on video. Today, the Seattle native, now a lieutenant colonel, wants to ensure that the valor of all others awarded the medal, their acts of bravery performed outside camera range, will also be well-documented. The vehicle: The National Medal of Honor Museum, awaiting construction in Arlington, Texas. The $250 institution will tell the stories of the medal's more than 35-hundred recipients, from the civil war onward.
Lt. Col. William Swenson: Telling that story, it's complex. It's emotional. And how do you tell it to a nation so that they can understand that what we do on behalf of them is for a cause?
James: Shaping these inspiring, often wrenching, narratives will be the museum's executive director, Joe Daniels. Formerly president and CEO of the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. Daniels was at the World Trade Center that dark day, and sees parallels between the heroism displayed on 9/11 and the selflessness demonstrated by medal of honor recipients.
Joe Daniels: So the hope of this museum, and our belief, is that through this museum, people will understand those selfless things, and apply that, be inspired in their everyday lives, to do things that come at a personal cost.
James: The museum's honorary directors are the living former presidents. Commanders-in-chief who hung the Medal of Honor around the necks of heroes. And as one of those heroes noted, making this museum a success will require the same traits as the battlefield does.
Lt. Col. Swenson: It's not about individuals, it's about the team. And it's about a team working collectively on behalf of themselves, and each other, but also on behalf of our nation.