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Retired Marine Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter receives the Medal of Honor from President Obama on Thursday at the White House. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
Retired Marine Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter smiles as well-wishers applaud during his Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
He never asked for this. And by rights, he wasn’t supposed to be here.
Illuminated by camera bulbs and chandeliers in the East Room of the White House, Marine veteran William Kyle Carpenter nonetheless stood stoic and strong as the president of the United States told his story.
“His injuries were called catastrophic,” said President Obama. “It seemed as if he was going to die.”
Much has taken place in the nearly four years since Nov. 21, 2010, when Carpenter, then a 21-year-old lance corporal, threw himself on a grenade in Marjah, Afghanistan, to save the life of a friend and Marine comrade, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, while both were standing watch on a rooftop. Today, he became just the second living Marine from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor.
Now 24, the medically retired corporal from the small town of Gilbert, South Carolina, still carries silver shrapnel scars in his face from that grenade, but he has proved resilient. He ran the Marine Corps Marathon last year and trained his shattered right arm to do pull-ups again.
As Obama recounted Carpenter’s recovery process following the grenade blast — “he’s got a new prosthetic eye, new jaw, new teeth ... and one hell of a smile” — Carpenter showed off that grin.
The room, filled with with Carpenter’s family members, Marine comrades and caretakers from his lengthy convalescence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, reverberated with prolonged cheers after Obama placed the medal on his neck.
But later, in a statement at the White House briefing room, Carpenter said he received the medal with a heavy heart, as he contemplated the sacrifices of Marines from every generation, from the Continental Marine force to the streets of Baghdad.
Carpenter’s unit, Fox Company 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, lost two other Marines during his deployment: Lance Cpls. Dakota Huse and Timothy Jackson. Both were honored during the ceremony.
Carpenter said he still clearly remembers the sacrifices of the Marines with whom he fought in Marjah.
“If I close my eyes, I can still hear their desperate medevacs being called over the radio,” he said.
“To those who have given all and their families, I can never express in words what you mean to this nation.”
Obama also recognized the doctors at Walter Reed who saved Carpenter’s life and restored his health over two-and-a-half years and some 40 surgeries.
“You’ve got a job where you know you’re doing God’s work every single day,” he said. “Thank you for the miracles you work.”
The family of Eufrazio, who sustained severe brain injury during the grenade blast, has avoided press attention since Carpenter’s award was announced.
Carpenter said he invited Eufrazio and his family, but they were unable to travel from Massachusetts to attend the ceremony.
“With Nick’s injuries, it’s a long journey to come down here,” Carpenter told Marine Corps Times in a morning interview. “His medical care is much higher on my priority list than them coming to my ceremony.”
Obama, who said he met Eufrazio two years after the blast, promised that he would not be forgotten as his recovery continued.
“Nick, on behalf of all of us, I want you to know that we honor your sacrifice as well,” he said.
For Carpenter, Obama resorted to more ancient words.
“He fulfilled those words of Scripture,” the president said. “‘Greater love has no man than this,that he laid down his life for his friend.’ ”
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