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Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter takes part of the first corporals course for wounded warriors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, Md., Jan. 12. Carpenter sustained wounds to the right side of his body from an enemy grenade in Marjah, Afghanistan, November 2010. The class graduated Jan. 16. ()
When Blake Schreiber learned that William Kyle Carpenter would receive the military’s highest honor for bravery in Afghanistan, his response was visceral.
“I really just smiled, the biggest smile I’ve ever had,” said Schreiber, who had served alongside Carpenter in Afghanistan as a member of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. “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.”
Marine Corps Times confirmed that Carpenter, 24, would be the second Marine from the war in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor, for jumping on a grenade to save the life of a comrade and close friend. Marine Corps Times began making inquires about the status of Carpenter’s case because the statute of limitations for Navy Department Medal of Honor awards requires a formal recommendation be made within three years of the combat action in question. Carpenter, the subject of two cover stories published by this newspaper in 2012, also recently appeared in the national media. He was the subject of a January feature story in Reader’s Digest and a related appearance Jan. 27 on Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show.
Many Marines who served with Carpenter said, in the wake of the news, that they were proud to call him a friend.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Schrieber had been standing the same afternoon watch shift as Lance Cpls. Carpenter and Nicholas Eufrazio, but on the opposite side of the compound at the newly established Patrol Base Dakota in the Marjah district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province. It’s hard for him to articulate what he saw and experienced in the moments that would change Carpenter and Eufrazio’s lives forever, though he ponders it often.
He recalls he heard a familiar thud, like a softball hitting the ground. A grenade, which turned out to be a dud, had landed near him just as insurgents tossed a live grenade onto the roof where the two other Marines were posting watch.
“I could only see half their bodies; you could see Kyle falling down toward [the grenade],” Schreiber said. 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.”
The grenade blast left Carpenter with severe wounds to his face and right side, and Eufrazio with a traumatic brain injury from slivers of shrapnel. Neither Marine could articulate what had happened in the seconds after the grenade landed on the rooftop, but the nature of Carpenter’s wounds and the evidence at the scene left the Marines in his unit with few doubts. The blast seat of the grenade was found directly under Carpenter’s upper body. And as the corpsman who triaged the two Marines said, grenades blow up; they don’t blow down.
“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 from 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.”
Carpenter’s former comrades tend to speak of Carpenter in superlatives.
“He has one of the best personalities I’ve ever discovered in a person,” said Brandon Woods, another member of Carpenter’s platoon from his home state of South Carolina. “He was always cheerful. Nothing would ever get him down. Good-hearted.”
Because there were no eyewitnesses to the grenade blast, and because of the years-long investigation into the events of Nov. 21, some of Carpenter’s comrades doubted the military would recognize his actions with the Medal of Honor. But the Marines who spoke with Marine Corps Times said they never doubted he had earned it.
“It’s awesome. You really hoped it would happen,” said Tre’le Welch, who was at nearby Patrol Base Beatley when Carpenter and Eufrazio were wounded, and had been in Carpenter’s unit since boot camp. “You know in your heart of hearts that this man deserves it.”
In the years since he was wounded, Carpenter has emerged as an inspirational figure, a spokesman for wounded warriors and a role model for contemporary Marines. After losing his right eye to his injuries, he installed a prosthetic featuring the Purple Heart, a symbol of his combat wounds. He ran the Marine Corps Marathon last year and, 30 surgeries after his right arm was broken in dozens of places, can knock out pull-ups.
In 2011, the state senate in Carpenter’s native South Carolina honored him with a resolution that gave him credit for taking the grenade blast, saying he exemplified a hero. A photograph from the senate ceremony, showing Carpenter proud in his dress blues with shrapnel scars creating veins of silver across his face, went viral online. He has also appeared as a guest of honor at Marine Corps command events, and participated in events for the Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment.
Marine veteran and blogger Brian Adam Jones summed up his feelings in a post titled “Kyle Carpenter is the Medal of Honor recipient the Marine Corps needs.”
“This kid’s special,” Jones told the Marine Corps Times. “This whole image of him with the scars that he embraces. He’s such a rugged figure. He’s a Marine’s Marine.”
At home, many are ready to recognize Carpenter as a hero.
“That is the type of individual that deserves the Medal of Honor,” said Jake Knotts of West Columbia, S.C., who introduced the resolution honoring Carpenter’s actions when he was a member of the state senate. “To know that man, all the injuries he received, he was still walking and talking and still wearing his uniform proudly,” Knotts said. “Everybody in the State House, in the senate and the house, they felt very good about the fact that we had a man from South Carolina who would do what he did for his country.”
Carpenter, however, has not emerged to speak on his own behalf about being approved to receive the Medal of Honor. Friends who keep in touch with Carpenter said the time following the news of his award was challenging for his family as they adjusted to the public attention.
Reached for comment, Carpenter’s mother, Robin Conrad Carpenter, referred comment to a Marine public affairs officer, who declined to comment.
Some said Carpenter still struggles with his feelings about what happened on that day at PB Dakota.
“There would be times where he’d be upset that he couldn’t do more, because Eufrazio was still hurt,” said Schreiber, who left the Marine Corps last March. “Kyle was always upset at some point that he still could have done more.”
For his part, Schreiber said he couldn’t see how Carpenter could have possibly given more of himself.
“You were willing to extinguish your own life so another man, who might as well have been flesh and blood and related to you, could continue breathing.”