U.S. Marine Who Saved His Friend’s Life in Afghanistan Receives Medal of Honor
There’s a reason Marine Corporal William “Kyle” Carpenter doesn’t hide his scars: He’s proud of them and the service they represent.
President Barack Obama awarded the highest military award in the United States to the retired marine for diving on top of a live grenade to save a fellow marine.
Carpenter, 24, who received the Medal of Honor on Thursday, was on post in Afghanistan in November 2010 with his Corporal Nick Eufrazio, a friend, when enemy forces threw several hand grenades into the compound. One of the explosives landed between the two men, and in a split-second, Carpenter jumped on top of it, shielding Eufrazio from the blast and ultimately saving his life.
“This U.S. Marine faced down that terrible explosive power, that unforgiving force, with his own body, willingly and deliberately, to protect a fellow Marine,” Obama said before presenting the marine with the Medal of Honor. “You displayed a valor in the blink of an eye that will inspire generations.”
The impact of the explosion nearly killed Carpenter, taking out his eye and most of his jaw, and fracturing his arm in more than 30 places. When he made it to the hospital, he was labeled PEA: Patient Expired on Arrival. In the 24 hours that followed, his heart flatlined three separate times, he told South Carolina Living.
Carpenter explains the attack and his subsequent injuries in his own words for a video produced by the Marines.
Carpenter spent two-and-a-half years in the hospital after the incident, undergoing more than 30 operations and hours of physical therapy. The doctors who treated him said in a video produced by the marines that he is still known at the hospital for his endurance and positive demeanor throughout the ordeal.
“It was never a ‘Why did this happen to me?’ attitude. He was just a fighter,” Vincent Auth, one of the doctors responsible for Carpenter’s reconstructive surgeries, said. “He was just very grateful, very polite and appreciative, and really just a great kid to work on.”
From the beginning, Carpenter’s concern was for others. One of the marines who arrived on the scene shortly after the explosion said Carpenter kept repeating one question: Had his friend survived? Another doctor who worked with him, Debra Malone, said this attitude continued through his recovery.
“Kyle didn’t complain,” Malone said. “He was so stoic through all of that. I honestly believe that Kyle made an effort to protect his family, his friends and his fellow marines. I don’t think he wanted his fellow marines to see him suffer knowing that at some point they might be going off to war and they might be faced with the same challenge.”
Carpenter is the fifteenth recipient of the medal for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the eighth still alive, according to the Associated Press. Created in 1861, the Medal of Honor is awarded by the sitting president of the United States to men in the military for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” The statute of limitations for the medal requires that a formal recommendation be made within three years of the action.
This medal was particularly difficult to investigate because there were no witnesses to Carpenter’s actions. Carpenter has no recollection of the incident due to the brain trauma he endured, and Eufrazio — whose life he saved — suffered a shrapnel wound to the head that left him unable to speak for two years. However, an investigation by the marines leaves little doubt about what happened that day in 2010.
“When EOD did a post-blast analysis, they said there’s no way that he didn’t jump on it,” Michael Tinari, a corporal from Carpenter’s platoon told the Marine Times.
Carpenter credits his family for his recovery, saying he is grateful for the new attitude this has given him about life.
“I look back, and I’m actually very appreciative I had those two-and-a-half years, because those years put things in perspective more than a whole lifetime of things could if I wasn’t there,” Carpenter said, according to CNN.
He described his new outlook on life in an interview with Katie Couric, saying that since his recovery, he has run a marathon and gone skydiving.
“From being injured, and absolutely being on death’s front door step, I just [do] anything that comes my way that will make me experience life more; anything that will give me that feeling of ‘I’m really living,’” he said. “I try to do absolutely everything I can.”
Carpenter retired from the marines in July 2013 and is now enrolled at the University of Souther California, pursuing a degree in psychology. In remarks to the press after receiving the award, Carpenter shared what he has learned from his experiences.
“Freedom is a powerful and beautiful thing,” he said. “Be thankful for what you have. Appreciate the small and simple things. Be kind and help others. Let the ones you love know you love them. And when things get tough, trust there is a bigger plan and that you will be stronger for it.”