Tennessee Town Names Widow and Infant Son July 4 Parade Grand Marshals

PHOTO: Crissie Carpenter and her son Landon Carpenter.Marcia Truitt of Inara Studios
Crissie Carpenter and her son Landon.

Most Fourth of July parades are glitzy affairs with sparklers, bright costumes and a celebrity grand marshal.

But in Lewisburg, Tenn., parade chairman Jamie Bone wanted his grand marshal to be someone different, "someone who has truly made a difference in the world."

So he called Crissie Carpenter.

The 22-year-old became a widow and a single mother in February when her husband, a Marine, was shot in Afghanistan.

"I don't think you can give enough thanks to the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms," said Bone, who works as a career counselor for Goodwill.

"At first I was unsure if I wanted to do it," Carpenter said. After thinking it over for a couple of days, she decided, "It's an honor for me to do it for Andy."

Her husband, Andrew Carpenter, had been sent to Afghanistan in January, after a little more than three years of service with the Marines. The couple had decided they would leave military life in September so he could pursue a career as a history teacher.

But on Valentine's Day, Crissie received word that her husband, a lance corporal, had been shot in the neck while serving in Helmand Province, put on a ventilator and transported to Germany. His family flew out to see him but doctors said he had lost all brain activity. His wife, eight months pregnant with their first child, could not travel.

Instead, she communicated with doctors and Andrew's parents via phone.

"I think if she could have swam that ocean, she would have done it," said Andrew Carpenter's 37-year-old sister, Kate Kutzleb.

Just five days later, Crissie Carpenter was overwhelmed with a difficult decision: "I had to say it's O.K. to turn off the ventilator," she said.

"It was definitely the hardest thing I've ever been through," Carpenter said. "I had to pray and pray all the time."

Andrew Carpenter, age 27, died Feb. 19, and three weeks later his wife gave birth to a boy, Landon -- a name they had picked together.

Community Shows Their Support

Crissie Carpenter spent her birthday, Feb. 27, at the funeral home in Columbia, Tenn. Her husband, who grew up in the town of 38,000, was buried the next day.

On the day of the funeral, people lined the roads during the procession, standing in the freezing rain for hours, many holding signs, others holding their hands over their hearts.

Carpenter and her in-laws were stunned.

"The entire route was lined. We didn't go 500 feet without somebody there," said Kutzleb. "I've never heard of anything like it in my life."

Kutzleb described her brother as being exceptionally generous, the kind of person who "would give you the shirt off his back."

"Almost everyone knew him," she said. "People were drawn to him."

"He was definitely a guy who was friends with everybody – he always had a smile on his face. Even when we would argue, he would still smile within two seconds," recalled Carpenter, who has moved from Carpenter to Dickson, Tenn., near her family.

Widow Honors Husband in 4th of July Parade

Before joining the Marines, Andrew Carpenter went to a local community college and worked at the Columbia YMCA, where he would arrange after-school activities for elementary school children.

"He was a very driven person. When he got a goal set, that was what was going to happen. Whatever means it took, he was going to get the job done. That was a personal trait that he definitely taught me," said Jason Sykes, 26, one of the groomsmen at the couple's wedding who described Andrew as positive and upbeat.

Andrew and Crissie complemented each other, Sykes said. "Andy was happy-go-lucky, and Crissie is too, but she could definitely bring Andy back down to earth sometimes."

They married on New Year's Day last year. "The two of them were so in love," Kutzleb said. "They looked like a wedding cake topper."

On his Facebook page Andrew Carpenter had written a short description of himself that read, in part, "i am married to a wonderful woman and have some of the best friends one could ask for. i believe in god and family over everything else."

An Extra Special Fourth of July

Bone said more local organizations and businesses have joined the Lewisburg parade this year because of Crissie Carpenter.

"We've had a tremendous response," he said. "We're expecting this to be the largest parade we've ever had."

It's a bright note for Lewisburg, a small town near Columbia that's less than an hour from Nashville. Like many towns in America, it's been struggling with high rates of unemployment.

During the procession Carpenter will ride with her son in a horse-drawn wagon followed by another wagon with the parade's honorary grand marshals: the families of three Lewisburg veterans who died in recent years.

Landon, Crissie's son, will be wearing a onesie that says, 'My Daddy Died for Our Freedom' and she, along with her family, will wear T-shirts with Andrew's name on it.

Although Carpenter says she is still angry about what happened to her husband, she wants her son to grow up knowing his dad was a hero. "In the sense that everybody is there for me, it does feel good," she said. "I hope Landon will one day be able to look back at it … to see that everyone came together … I would think he would be very thankful for what they did for me."