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Retired Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, 24, will receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan in 2010, the White House announced today. He will become only the second living Marine to receive the award for actions during the Global War on Terrorism.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Carpenter covered a grenade with his own body to save a fellow Marine. At the time, the two with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, were manning a rooftop post at the newly established Patrol Base Dakota in the Marjah district of Helmand province.
The new base was several kilometers south of PB Beatley, much closer to insurgent strongholds, and Fox Company had taken regular harassing fire, including grenade attacks that had wounded two Marines the day before.
Carpenter says it is difficult to remember exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the detonation, but those who served with him say they are confident he covered the grenade to save Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio. Eufrazio did not die, but sustained grave brain injuries from shrapnel, despite Carpenter's sacrifice.
When Marine Corps Times first reported in March that Carpenter had been tapped for the MoH, fellow Marines said they never doubted he deserved the medal.
Blake Schreiber who was present during the attack recounted what he saw.
"I could only see half their bodies; you could see Kyle falling down toward [the grenade]," Schreiber said. "I had to look away for a quick second. And that's when the boom went off. There was screaming, everybody moving fast. The reaction time was insane."
Because the fortified position blocked a direct line of sight, no Marine actually saw Carpenter on the grenade. But a corpsman's assessment and a post-blast analysis by explosive ordnance technicians left no doubt among those who were there that day that Carpenter had sacrificed himself.
When Marines turned Carpenter over, they saw that he had lost most of his jaw, fractured his right arm in more than 30 places, lost an eye and sustained a host of other grave injuries. They also found the grenade's spoon squarely under his torso.
"When EOD did a post-blast analysis, they said there's no way that he didn't jump on it," said Michael Tinari, then a lance corporal Carpenter's platoon, who had been at Camp Dwyer, in the Garmsir district, when the Marines were wounded. When Tinari heard that Carpenter had sacrificed himself in an attempt to shield his friend, he said he didn't doubt it for a moment.
"I will tell you Kyle is probably the most genuine person you'll ever meet," he said. "He's the most polite person, he's genuine. You'll never meet anyone like Kyle Carpenter, I assure you of that."
Since Carpenter's heroism in Afghanistan, followed by a remarkable recovery that included more than 30 surgeries, he has emerged as an inspirational figure who loves snow boarding, sky diving and educance sports. He has appeared on several national TV shows, eventually completed a Marine Corps Marathon and begin an undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina this year. He was medically retired July 30 during a small ceremony at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
The fact that there were no direct witnesses may have contributed to the long lag between the time of the incident and the official announcement of the award. By law, a formal recommendation for the Medal of Honor must come within three years of the combat action for which it is awarded.