President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to twenty-four veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam in a ceremony at the White House today. These veterans of past American wars, only three among them still living to receive their medals in person, will be joined later this year by the newest recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor, marine veteran Kyle Carpenter.
The Marine Corps Times first reported that retired U.S. Marine Corporal William Kyle Carpenter will receive the Medal of Honor in a ceremony to be held later this year. In 12 years of fighting, Carpenter will be the 10th veteran of the war in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor.
On November 21, 2010, Carpenter and Lance Corporal Nicholas Eufrazio were severely wounded in a grenade attack in Helmand Province as the two men stood guard on a rooftop. After the attack, marines from Carpenter’s unit said he had covered the grenade with his own body to save Eufrazio. According to Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Frend, who triaged Carpenter, this scenario is supported by the nature of his wounds, which indicated the grenade exploded under his chest. Since a grenade thrown on the rooftop would have detonated up and out, Frend said Carpenter’s injuries were consistent with him jumping on the weapon to smother its blast.
Carpenter’s wounds and the supporting testimony of his fellow marines likely played a crucial role in the decision to award him the medal. The Marine Corps’ official investigation into his actions was complicated by his and Eufrazio’s inability to recall what had happened during the attack. In the wake of the explosion, Carpenter could not remember it, and a brain injury left Eufrazio unable to speak for two years.
Blake Schreiber also served in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. He was standing guard at a different post, attacked at the same time as Carpenter and Eufrazio. Schreiber told the Times he heard a sound like a softball hitting the roof near him, the target of a second grenade that turned out to be a dud. Describing the attack, he continued, “I could only see half their bodies; you could see [Carpenter] falling down toward [the grenade]. I had looked away for a quick second. And that’s when the booms went off. There was screaming, everybody moving fast. The reaction time was insane.”
Carpenter lost an eye in the explosion and suffered serious wounds to his face and side. His years-long recovery has included over 30 surgeries and a stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His heroism, resiliency, and post-war achievement (last October he finished the Marine Corps Marathon) have already earned him a degree of celebrity as a spokesman for wounded troops, with appearances on the Katie Couric Show and other national media. The Marine Corps Times has been instrumental in telling his story, twice featuring him on their cover in 2012 and later “making inquiries about the status of his case” as the 3-year statute of limitations for a Medal of Honor recommendation neared.
After learning Carpenter would receive the award, Schreiber said, “I know what it takes to get something like this. Just to know he’s going to be recognized for what he did, it’s what he deserves, and I’m so happy that he gets that.”
Although the lack of eyewitnesses sometimes placed Carpenter’s medal recommendation in doubt, several marines from his old unit have gone on record, like Schreiber, voicing support for the military’s decision to make the award.
Now medically retired from the service, Carpenter is a student at the University of South Carolina. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment; however, he posted last November on Operation Kyle, a Facebook page started in his name by the Lexington Baptist Church:
“It’s hard to comprehend that three years ago today my life and body was torn apart by an enemy hand grenade on a hot dusty rooftop in Afghanistan. At times it has felt so long ago and yet, when I close my eyes, I can still feel the warm blood pouring out of me onto my skin and fading out of consciousness with the final thought of “I’m going to die” in my head….
And here I am. I just want to thank and remind all of you how much it means and how truly appreciative I am for every comment, message, word of encouragement and prayer you have sent my way since that day in November 2010.”
Carpenter ended the post on the attack’s third anniversary with a quotation from Dante’s Inferno:
“Do not be afraid; our fate
cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”