Shortly after outlining his plans for Iraq, President Obama turned to awarding the nation’s highest military honor to a veteran of the Afghanistan war. President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Corp. William “Kyle” Carpenter, a Marine who dove in front of a grenade to protect his best friend and comrade in Helmand Province in 2010.
“We are here because this man, this United States Marine, faced down that terrible explosive power, that unforgiving force, with his own body, willingly and deliberately, to protect a fellow Marine,” President Obama said. “When that grenade exploded, Kyle Carpenter’s body took the brunt of the blast. His injuries were called catastrophic.”
While being treated for his injuries, Carpenter, then 21, went into cardiac arrest and flatlined three times, the president said. Each time, doctors brought him back.
“Along with his parents, who call Kyle’s survival ‘our miracle,’ we thank God they did, because with that singular act of courage, Kyle, you not only saved your brother in arms, you displayed a heroism in the blink of an eye that will inspire for generations, valor worthy of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor,” he said.
Carpenter, now 24 and retired from the Marine Corps, recovered for some time at Walter Reed Medical Center and underwent nearly 40 surgeries, which included receiving a “new prosthetic eye, a new jaw, new teeth, and one hell of a smile.”
“You’ll notice that Kyle doesn’t hide his scars. He’s proud of them and the service that they represent,” Obama said. “I’m just quoting him. He says the girls definitely like them…he’s working an angle on this thing.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Carpenter offered some words of advice he lives by since the day he nearly lost his life.
“Freedom is a powerful and beautiful thing. 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,” Carpenter said.
Read how President Obama described that day Carpenter risked his life to save a fellow soldier:
Kyle and his fellow Marines served during the surge of forces that I ordered to Afghanistan early in my presidency. Their mission was to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds, protect the Afghan people and give them a chance to reclaim their communities. Kyle and his platoon were in Helmand Province in Marja, pushing their way across open fields and muddy canals bearing their heavy packs, even as it could heat up to 115 degrees.
In one small village, they turned a dusty compound into their base. The insurgents nearby gave their answer with sniper fire and automatic weapon fire and rocket-propelled grenades. That morning, Kyle said, our alarm clock was AK-47 fire.
Some of the men were by their bunks, gearing up for another day. Some were heating up their MREs. Some were in makeshift op centers, a simple mud building, planning the day’s patrols. And up on the roof, behind a circle of sandbags, two Marines manned their posts, Kyle and Lance Corporal Nicholas Eufrazio.
The compound started to take fire. Seeking cover, Kyle and Nick laid down low on their backs behind those sandbags. And then the grenade landed with a thud, its pin already pulled. It was about to explode. And Kyle has no memory of what happened next.
What we do know is that there on that rooftop he wasn’t just with a fellow Marine. He was with his best friend. Kyle and Nick had met in training. In Afghanistan they patrolled together, day and night, a friendship forged in fire. Kyle says about Nick, he was my point man, and I loved him like a brother.
When the grenade landed, other Marines in the compound looked up and saw it happen. Kyle tried to stand. He lunged forward toward that grenade, and then he disappeared into the blast.
Keep in mind at the time Kyle was just 21 years old. But in that instant, he fulfilled those words of Scripture: Greater hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.
They found Kyle lying face-down directly over the blast area. His helmet was riddled with holes. His gear was melted. Part of his Kevlar vest was blown away. One of the doctors who treated him later said Kyle was literally wounded from the top of his head to his feet. And for a moment, Kyle was still conscious. His eyes were open, but he couldn’t see. Kyle remembers everything went white. And yet even then his thoughts were not of himself. One of the Marines who was there remembers how Kyle kept asking one question, and that was whether Nick was OK. And then as Kyle’s strength drained away, he sensed the end was coming. So according to Kyle’s memories, my last thought was to make peace with God. I asked for his forgiveness. I was trying to make the best and most of my last few seconds here on Earth.