On Nov. 21, 2010 in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter covered a live grenade to save the life of his fellow Marine – and close friend – Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio. Seventeen months later, that action earned Carpenter the highest military honor the United States awards.
On June 19 – in front of 14 members of his family, friends and fellow Marines, military leadership, the press and the medical team that helped repair Carpenter’s body during two-plus years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – President Barack Obama presented Carpenter with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony in the White House’s East Room.
“If any of our wounded warriors seek an example – let me amend that – if any American seeks a model of the strength and resilience that define us as a people, including this newest 9/11 generation, I want you to consider Kyle,” Obama said during the ceremony. “After everything he’s been through, he skis, he snowboards, he’s jumped from a plane – with a parachute, thankfully. He trudged through a six-mile Mud Run, completed the Marine Corps Marathon, says he wants to do a triathlon.
“He’s a motivational speaker, an advocate for his fellow wounded warriors. He’s thinking about majoring in psychology so he can use his own experiences to help others. He got stellar grades. And, by the way, he’s only 24 years old, and says, ‘I am just getting started.’ In other words, Kyle is a shining example of what our nation needs to encourage – these veterans who come home and then use their incredible skills and talents to keep our country strong. And we can all learn from Kyle’s example.”
Carpenter earned the Medal of Honor during an insurgent attack in the Marjah district of the Helmand province while he and Eufrazio were standing guard on a rooftop. The grenade blast cost Carpenter his right eye and many of his teeth, while shattering his jaw and breaking his arm in several places.
“(Carpenter) should not be alive today,” Obama said. “But we are here because this man, this United States Marine, faced down that terrible explosive power, that unforgiving force, with his own body – willingly and deliberately – to protect a fellow Marine. When that grenade exploded, Kyle Carpenter’s body took the brunt of the blast. His injuries were called ‘catastrophic.’ It seemed as if he was going to die. While being treated, he went into cardiac arrest, and three times, he flatlined. Three times, doctors brought him back.
“Along with his parents, who call Kyle’s survival ‘our miracle,’ we thank God they did. Because with that singular act of courage, Kyle, you not only saved your brother in arms, you displayed a heroism in the blink of an eye that will inspire for generations valor worthy of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.”
Carpenter, the second Marine and 10th U.S. servicemember from the war in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor, was humbled. "I accept this honor with a heavy heart," he told reporters after the ceremony. "Freedom is a powerful and beautiful thing."
Obama praised Carpenter, who was medically retired from the Marines, not only for his actions on Nov. 21, 2010, but for his actions since then. “The Medal of Honor is presented for gallantry on the battlefield,” he said. “But today, we also recognize Kyle Carpenter for his valor since in the hard fight for recovery. Eventually, Kyle woke up after five weeks in a coma. I want you to consider what Kyle has endured just to stand here today. More than two and a half years in the hospital. Grueling rehabilitation. Brain surgery to remove shrapnel from his head. Nearly 40 surgeries to repair a collapsed lung, fractured fingers, a shattered right arm broken in more than 30 places, multiple skin grafts. He has a new prosthetic eye, a new jaw, new teeth – and one hell of a smile.
“These days he’s also at the University of South Carolina, ‘just a normal college student,’ he says, cheering for the Gamecocks. You’ll notice that Kyle doesn’t hide his scars; he’s proud of them, and the service that they represent. And, now, he tells me this, and so I’m just quoting him – he says, ‘the girls definitely like them.’”
Obama closed the ceremony by quoting Carpenter himself. “'It took a life-changing event to get me to truly appreciate the precious and amazing life I have been blessed with,’” said Obama, relaying Carpenter’s words. “'Please take it from me, enjoy every day to the fullest, don't take life too seriously, always try to make it count, appreciate the small and simple things, be kind and help others, let the ones you love always know you love them, and when things get hard trust there is a bigger plan and that you will be stronger for it.’ Pretty good message.”
The night before the ceremony, The American Legion and Soldier’s Wish hosted a reception honoring Carpenter. In addition to friends and families attending, several fellow Medal of Honor recipients made it to the reception. One of those – Harold A. Fritz, who now serves as president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society – said it’s important to integrate younger recipients like Carpenter into the Society.
“We were at 300 living recipients at one time, but through attrition we’re down to 79,” said Fritz, who earned the Medal during his service in Vietnam. “A lot of us are getting up there, and we need these younger guys to eventually take over leadership of this Society.”