New Review of War Footage Shows Soldier Who Was Presumed Dead Single-Handedly Continued to Fight

Image Credit: Department of Defense

Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman served as a radioman for the renowned SEAL Team 6 in 2002, where he was thought to have been immediately killed along a peak in Afghanistan. But a new review of surveillance footage now has Deborah Lee James, the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force pushing for Chapman to be posthumously given the Medal of Honor.

The New York Times reported Saturday that contrary to the series of events recalled by Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski, Chapman did not immediately die on the snow-covered peak in Afghanistan during the battle of Takur Ghar.

The way Slabinski remembered the battle, Chapman’s body was no longer responsive. And amid a heavy firefight, the airman was presumed dead.

But using new technology to examine the 14-year-old surveillance footage, it was determined that Chapman survived the initial firefight and went on to kill two al Qaeda militants, one in hand-to-hand combat, the Times noted.

Chapman ultimately died later in the fight while trying to shield the incoming reinforcements.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James — Image Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James — Image Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell, a retired Delta Force commander who the Times described as “involved in the broader operation that included the mountaintop episode,” said that Slabinski’s mistake, while devastating, could have easily happened to anyone in such a brutal firefight.

“If anybody thought Chapman was alive, we would have been trying to move heaven and earth to get him out of there.”

While Slabinski acknowledged that he could have made a mistake, he is still not fully convinced of the new technology’s findings. The nearly 15-year-old surveillance footage was able to be heightened to a more descriptive detail with the isolation of “pixel representations of people,” according to the Times.

Slabinksi added that a number of factors contributed to the SEAL team’s retreat, including orders from superior officers and a denial to postpone the mission. Nevertheless, Slabinski said that if the new account of Chapman’s final moments is accepted, he will be the one who bears the blame.

“They’re going to say: ‘Yep, it’s all your fault. You left him up there, behind, alive.’”

Now, it is left to President Barack Obama to approve the request to grant Chapman the Medal of Honor, which due to heavy reliance on technology over human account, would be the first of its kind.

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