Retired Marine Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter became the 11th U.S. service member from the war in Afghanistan to earn the Medal of Honor on Thursday when President Barack Obama draped the nation's highest award for combat valor around his neck.
Carpenter, only 19 when he used his own body to shield another Marine from a grenade in 2010, lived through the blast and injuries and surgeries against tremendous odds.
"His injuries were called catastrophic. It seemed as though he was going to die," Obama said in the East Room of the White House. "While being treated he went into cardiac arrest. Three times he flatlined. Three times doctors brought him back."
Carpenter was medically retired from the Marine Corps last year after more than two years of surgeries and rehabilitative therapy, much of it at Walter Reed Medical Center.
The ceremony at the White House on Thursday was witnessed by Carpenter's family, fellow Marines and members of the Medal of Honor Society who fought in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam.
Carpenter said that when Obama gave him the medal, "I felt the history of the weight of the nation."
Reading from a statement in a steady voice, Carpenter said he thought about all the Marines who went before him, from the Continental Marines that "fearlessly defended their ships" during the American Revolution to those who fought in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"To those who have given all, and their families I can never express in words what you mean to this nation what you gave to so selflessly," he said. "We are forever indebted to you ... I'm proud to be a Marine, I'm proud of those that raised their right hand, those who sacrificed to earn the right to wear the sacred cloth of our nation. I thank all who have served, who are serving and who will serve."
Carpenter, 24, was a rifleman with a squad of Marines operating in Helmand Province on Nov. 21, 2010 when he threw himself on an enemy grenade to shield a fellow Marine, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio. The two were manning a rooftop observation post when they came under attack and one of three grenades landed close by.
Carpenter, of Flowood, Mississippi, deliberately put himself between the grenade and Eufrazio, absorbing much of the blast.
Lance Cpl. Jared Lilly, the first Marine onto the roof after the blast, told Marine Corps Times in 2012 that Eufrazio "was like [Carpenter's] little brother. Kyle would have done anything to protect him and he did."
Lilly and other Marines who served with Carpenter that day recollected some of the events in the comments section of a Times' blog entry discussing the wounded Marine's MoH recommendation, which was still being investigated by the Corps at the time.
"Kyle committed his body to making the ultimate sacrifice [but] it just wasn't his time," Lilly wrote.
The blast fractured Carpenter's skull and blew off a third of his lower jaw, according to the Marine Corps. His face was a mass of lacerations with wounds that would cost him his right eye. His right lung was collapsed and his right arm was broken in multiple places. There were fragmentation wounds across his upper body and lower extremities.
Eufrazio did not escape injury, and suffered a head wound from grenade shrapnel.
Fellow Marines in the room directly below quickly climbed to the roof, where they provided emergency aid and called for medical evacuation.
"I absolutely credit them with saving my life and the quick response, which was incredible," Carpenter told MSNBC's military analyst, retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam, during an interview that aired Thursday morning.
It was also his fellow Marines' recollections and reconstruction of the events that day that made the case for Carpenter's MoH recommendation. Carpenter has no memory of what happened in the seconds before the blast and Eufrazio – who sustained a traumatic brain injury – has not been able to relate his recollections.
Carpenter is now the 15th Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Seven of the recipients were awarded the medal posthumously.
Carpenter is a full-time student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org